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    The evolutionary origin of avian facial bristles and the likely role of rictal bristles in feeding ecology

    Delaunay, Mariane G, Brassey, Charlotte ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6552-541X, Larsen, Carl, Lloyd, Huw and Grant, Robyn A (2022) The evolutionary origin of avian facial bristles and the likely role of rictal bristles in feeding ecology. Scientific Reports, 12. p. 21108. ISSN 2045-2322

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    Facial bristles are one of the least described feather types and have not yet been systematically studied across phylogenetically diverse avian species. Consequently, little is known about their form, function and evolutionary history. Here we address this knowledge gap by characterising the evolution of facial bristles for the first time. We especially focus on rictal bristle presence and their associations with foraging behaviour, diet and habitat preferences in 1022 avian species, representing 91 families in 29 orders. Results reveal that upper rictal, lower rictal and interramal bristles were likely to be present in the most recent common ancestor of this avian phylogeny, whereas narial bristles were likely to be absent. Rictal bristle presence, length and shape varied both within and between avian orders, families and genera. Rictal bristles were gained or lost multiple times throughout evolution, which suggest that the different morphologies observed within species might not be homologous. Phylogenetic relatedness is also not likely to be the only driver of rictal bristle presence and morphology. Rictal bristle presence and length were associated with species-specific ecological traits, especially nocturnality. Our findings suggest that species foraging in low-light conditions are likely to have longer rictal bristles, and that rictal bristles are likely to have evolved in early birds.

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