Despite the importance of Darwin's finches to the development of evolutionary theory, the origin of the group has only recently been examined using a rigorous, phylogenetic methodology that includes many potential outgroups. Knowing the evolutionary relationships of Darwin's finches to other birds is important for understanding the context from which this adaptive radiation arose. Here we show that analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequence data from the cytochrome b gene confirm that Darwin's finches are monophyletic. In addition, many taxa previously proposed as the sister taxon to Darwin's finches can be excluded as their closest living relative. Darwin's finches are part of a well-supported monophyletic group of species, all of which build a domed nest. All but two of the non-Darwin's finches included in this clade occur on Caribbean islands and most are Caribbean endemics. These close relatives of Darwin's finches show a diversity of bill types and feeding behaviors similar to that observed among Darwin's finches themselves. Recent studies have shown that adaptive evolution in Darwin's finches occurred relatively quickly. Our data show that among the relatives of Darwin's finches, the evolution of bill diversity was also rapid and extensive.
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Vol. 56 • No. 6