Rapidly accumulating genome sequence information in birds, which show several unique genomic features, provides novel insights into evolutionary genomics. The avian karyotype with numerous microchromosomes has remained stable during evolution, although frequent intrachromosomal inversions have occurred. Avian sex chromosome evolution, representing the best characterized ZW system to date, follows patterns seen in other organisms but has the notable exception of incomplete dosage compensation. Recombination is unevenly distributed in the avian genome; it occurs at very high rates in microchromosomes, a consequence of an obligate crossing over in even small chromosomes, and has highly elevated rates near chromosome ends. Moreover, a heterogeneous landscape of recombination feeds significant heterogeneity in base composition via GC-biased gene conversion. A uniform molecular clock is not applicable to birds, and ample evidence for substitution rate heterogeneity both among lineages and within genomes exists. Observed genome-wide levels of nucleotide diversity in birds are in the range of 10−2–10−3.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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