A comprehensive multilocus assessment of sparrow (Aves: Passerellidae) relationships

John Klicka, F. Keith Barker, Kevin J. Burns, Scott M. Lanyon, Irby J. Lovette, Jaime A. Chaves, Robert W. Bryson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The New World sparrows (Emberizidae) are among the best known of songbird groups and have long-been recognized as one of the prominent components of the New World nine-primaried oscine assemblage. Despite receiving much attention from taxonomists over the years, and only recently using molecular methods, was a "core" sparrow clade established allowing the reconstruction of a phylogenetic hypothesis that includes the full sampling of sparrow species diversity. In this paper, we use mitochondrial DNA gene sequences from all 129 putative species of sparrow and four additional (nuclear) loci for a subset of these taxa to resolve both generic and species level relationships. Hypotheses derived from our mitochondrial (2184 base pairs) and nuclear (5705 base pairs) DNA data sets were generally in agreement with respect to clade constituency but differed somewhat with respect to among-clade relationships. Sparrow diversity is defined predominantly by eight well-supported clades that indicate a lack of monophyly for at least three currently recognized genera. Ammodramus is polyphyletic and requires the naming of two additional genera. Spizella is also polyphyletic with Tree Sparrow ( Spizella arborea) as a taxonomic "outlier". Pselliophorus is embedded within a larger Atlapetes assemblage and should be merged with that group. This new hypothesis of sparrow relationships will form the basis for future comparative analyses of variation within songbirds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-182
Number of pages6
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank the curators and collection managers at the institutions that provided tissue samples critical for the completion of this study. These include F. Sheldon, R. Brumfield, and D. Dittmann (Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science); A. Navarro and O. Rojas (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Museo de Zoologia); N. Johnson and C. Cicero (University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology); R. Zink (James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History); S. Hackett and J. Bates (Field Museum of Natural History); S. Rowher and S. Birks (University of Washington, Burke Museum of Natural History); M. Robbins and T. Peterson (University of Kansas Natural History Museum); P. Escalante (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Biología, La Colección Nacional de Aves); D. Cadena (Universidad de los Andes, Instituto Alexander von Humboldt, and Instituto de Ciencias Naturales – Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Colección Zoológica de la Universidad del Tolima); J. Pérez-Emán (Universidad Central de Venezuela, Instituto de Zoología y Ecología Tropical and Colección Ornitolólogia Phelps); S. Edwards and J. Trimble (Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University); and N. Rice (Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University). A special thanks is due to the collectors, preparators, and staffs who do much of the hard work behind the scenes at these institutions. Images used in the graphical abstract are Wikimedia Commons files (S. arborea and J. hyemalis, author Simon Pierre Barrette; Z. leucophrys, author Wolfgang Wander). This work was funded in part by NSF DEB 0315469 (to JK), DEB-0315416 (to KJB), DEB-0315218 (to IJL), and DEB-0316092 (to SML and FKB).


  • Nine-primaried oscine families
  • Passerellidae
  • Sparrow taxonomy
  • Systematics


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