A phylogenetic study of the malagasy couas with insights into cuckoo relationships

Kevin P. Johnson, Steven M. Goodman, Scott M. Lanyon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The avian family Cuculidae (cuckoos) is a diverse group of birds that vary considerably in behaviors of interest to behavioral ecologists, e.g., obligate brood parasitism and cooperative breeding. The taxonomy of this group has historically been relatively stable but has not been extensively evaluated using molecular methods. The goal of this study was to evaluate phylogenetic relationships within the ecologically diverse genus Coua and the placement of Coua among major cuckoo lineages. We sequenced 429 bp of cytochrome b (cyt b) and 522 bp of ND2, both mitochondrial genes, for 26 species of cuckoos spanning 13 genera. We also included the enigmatic hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) and used two Tauraco species as outgroups. ND2 exhibited higher rates of DNA sequence and amino acid substitution than cyt b; however, this did not greatly affect the overall levels of phylogenetic resolution and support provided by these two genes. Combined analyses produced two alternative phylogenies, depending on weighting scheme, both of which were fully resolved and were characterized by high bootstrap support. These phylogenies recovered monophyly for all of the traditional cuckoo subfamilies and indicated, with strong support, that the hoatzin is outside of Cuculidae. Within Coua, an arboreal and a terrestrial clade were identified. In contrast, habitat choice of Coua species did not greatly reflect the phylogeny. (C) 2000 Academic Press.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)436-444
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2000


  • Cuculidae
  • Cytochrome b
  • Hoatzin
  • Molecular phylogeny
  • ND2


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