Only the little penguin remains today, and pre-Quarternary evidence of this species and its ancestors in Australia is lacking. To update our understanding of Australian penguin evolutionary history, the authors of the study analysed recently collected penguin fossils and compared them to known species, including now-extinct 'giant penguins,' and presented a new phylogenetic tree in the context of biogeographical events on the Australian continent.
The authors propose that Australia's unique biogeographical history allowed for multiple dispersals of penguins to the continent during the Cenezoic or Age of Mammals, and that ancestors of the modern little penguins arrived in Australia with the help of a strengthened Antarctic Circumpolar Current.
While evolutionary trees are constructed as best estimates based on sometimes-limited fossil records, the authors suggest these findings shed new insights into the evolutionary trajectory of penguins in Australia.
Travis Park, Erich M. G. Fitzgerald, Stephen J. Gallagher, Ellyn Tomkins, Tony Allan. New Miocene Fossils and the History of Penguins in Australia. PLOS ONE, 2016; 11 (4): e0153915 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0153915
Note: The above post is reprinted from materials provided by PLOS.