Mitogenomic analysis of extant condor species provides insight into the molecular evolution of vultures
DE PANIS DIEGO; LAMBERTUCCI, SERGIO A.; GUILLERMO WIEMEYER; HERNAN DOPAZO; FRANCISCA ALMEIDA; CAMILA MAZZONI; MARTA GUT; IVO GUT; JULIAN PADRO
The evolution of large vultures linked to mountainous habitats was accompanied by extreme physiological and behavioral specializations for energetically efficient fights. However, little is known on the genetic traits associated with the evolution of these obligate soaring scavengers. Mitochondrial DNA plays a vital role in regulating oxidative stress and energy production, and hence may be an important target of selection for fight performance. Herein, we characterized the first mitogenomes of the Andean and California condors, the world?s heaviest flying birds, and the only living representatives of the Vultur and Gymnogyps genus. We reconstructed the phylogenetic relationships and evaluated possible footprints of convergent evolution associated to the life-history traits and distributional range of vultures. Our phylogenomic analyses supported the independent evolution of vultures, with the origin of Cathartidae in the early Paleogene (~61 Mya), and estimated the radiation of extant condors during the late Miocene (~11 Mya). Selection analyses indicated that vultures exhibit signals of relaxation of purifying selection relative to other accipitrimorph raptors, possibly indicating the degeneration of fapping fight ability. Overall, our results suggest that the extreme specialization of vultures for efficient soaring fight has compensated the evolution of large body sizes mitigating the selection pressure on mtDNA.