Fourfold polyphyly of the genus formerly known as Upucerthia, with notes on the systematics and evolution of the avian subfamily Furnariinae

R. Terry Chesser, F. Keith Barker, Robb T. Brumfield

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The traditional avian subfamily Furnariinae, a group of terrestrial ovenbirds typical of the Andean and Patagonian arid zones, consists of the genera Furnarius, Cinclodes, Geositta, Upucerthia, Chilia, and Eremobius. We investigated phylogenetic relationships within the Furnariinae, with particular attention to the nine species of the genus Upucerthia, using nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences from all genera in the subfamily. Upucerthia was found to be highly polyphyletic, its constituent species forming four non-sister clades: (1) a basal lineage consisting of two Upucerthia species, U. ruficaudus and U. andaecola, as well as the monotypic genera Eremobius and Chilia; (2) a lineage consisting of U. harterti and U. certhioides, two species behaviorally divergent from other Upucerthia species; (3) a lineage consisting of U. serrana, which is not closely related to any other Upucerthia species; and (4) a lineage, sister to Cinclodes, consisting of the four Upucerthia species U. dumetaria, U. albigula, U. validirostris, and U. jelskii. The larger Furnariinae was also found to be highly polyphyletic; the terrestrial open country ecotype characteristic of this subfamily occurs in four unrelated clades in the family Furnariidae, including a basal lineage as well as derived lineages. Although the large degree of divergence among Upucerthia clades was not previously recognized, owing to ecological, behavioral, and morphological similarities, the groupings correspond closely to relationships suggested by plumage. This is in contrast to studies of other avian genera in which plumage patterns have been shown to be extensively convergent. The generic names Upucerthia and Ochetorhynchus are available for two of the former Upucerthia clades; new generic names may be warranted for the other two.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1320-1332
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the following for providing tissue for this study: George Barrowclough and Paul Sweet, Department of Ornithology, American Museum of Natural History; Fred Sheldon and Donna Dittmann, Genetic Resources Collection, Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science; Gary Voelker, Marjorie Barrick Museum, University of Nevada Las Vegas; John Bates and David Willard, Bird Division, Field Museum of Natural History; Jon Fjeldså and Jaime García-Moreno, Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen; and Scott Edwards and Chris Wood, University of Washington Burke Museum. R.T.C. is grateful to Paul Sweet, Angelo Capparella, and Juan Mazar Barnett for field assistance in Argentina and to Alfredo Ugarte P. and “Checho” Escobar S. for field assistance in Chile. Edgardo Anania, Ministerio de Ecología y Recursos Naturales Renovables, Prov. Misiones, Posadas, Argentina; Roberto Lini, Direccíon de Bosques y Fauna, Prov. Río Negro, Viedma, Argentina; Adrianne Ricci, Ministerio de la Producción, Prov. Buenos Aires, La Plata, Argentina; Gustavo Porini, Secretaria de Recursos Naturales y Ambiente Humano, Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Juan Carlos Cuchacovich, Servicio Agricola y Ganadero, Santiago, Chile, kindly granted collecting and export permits for their respective jurisdictions. This study was funded in part by the Frank M. Chapman Memorial Fund of the American Museum of Natural History, by Michael Nachman of the University of Arizona, and by NSF Grants DEB-0543562 and DBI-0400797 to RTB. We thank Adriana Kulczak for translating references from French and Latin, Richard Banks for advice on taxonomy, and Leslie Overstreet and David Steere for bibliographic assistance. Neal Woodman and Robert Reynolds provided helpful comments on a draft version of this manuscript. The research reported in this paper is a contribution from the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Research Facility at The American Museum of Natural History and has received generous support from the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematic Studies, a joint initiative of The New York Botanical Garden and The American Museum of Natural History.


  • Andes
  • Chilia
  • Eremobius
  • Furnariidae
  • Ochetorhynchus
  • Ovenbirds
  • Polyphyly
  • Systematics
  • Upucerthia


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