Molecular Phylogenetics of the Avian GenusPipiloand a Biogeographic Argument for Taxonomic Uncertainty

Robert M. Zink, Susan J. Weller, Rachelle C. Blackwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


We sequenced 1709 base pairs (bp) of mitochondrial DNA including parts of cytochromeb, ND 2, and the control region (CR I, II) for seven members of the avian genusPipilo(towhees),Melozone kieneri(rusty-crowned ground-sparrow), andArremonops rufivirgatus(olive sparrow). A total of 457 bp was variable and 257 bp were potentially phylogenetically informative. All gene regions were similarly variable (20.2 to 28.4%) except for CR II (38.4%); third position transitions were as common as substitutions in the CR. Tree topology was sensitive to choice of outgroup(s) and individual sequences used as exemplars. Six trees were considered viable phylogenetic hypotheses based on maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood analyses. These trees generally supported two groups of towhees (rufous-sided group, brown towhee group), a sister taxon relationship forP. abertiandP. crissalis,and a sister taxon relationship forP. ocaiandP. maculatus.The occurrence ofM. kierneiwithinPipiloin three trees challenges the monophyly of the latter; the other species ofMelozoneand other outgroups require study to resolvePipilomonophyly. The relationships ofP. albicollisandP. fuscuswere ambiguous, as they were with previous data sets (allozymes, mtDNA restriction sites); they could be sister species or either one could be the basal species in the brown towhee group. We suggest that this taxonomic uncertainty obtains from the contemporaneous origin ofP. fuscus, P. albicollis,and the ancestor ofP. aberti/P. crissalis.We favor a "star" phylogeny because species in unrelated lineages found in the same region asP. albicollisare similarly difficult to resolve phylogenetically. Synapomorphies from coding genes and the CR did not preferentially support basal and terminal nodes, and hence did not provide different windows of taxonomic resolution, which might be expected from the apparent rapid rate of CR evolution. Phylogenetic trees inferred from allozymes, restriction sites, and mtDNA sequences were congruent, suggesting that each is a useful source of phylogenetic information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-201
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1998

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the following for advice or assistance: G. Barrowclough, T. Chesser, A. Dodge, S. Lanyon, O. Rojas-Soto, B. Hernandez-Banos, A. Navarro, J. Remsen, and D. Dittmann. K. Johnson and C. Lehman constructed the saturation plots. We thank C. Tarr for some CR PCR primer sequences. S. Russell suggested a collecting locality in Sonora, and we thank Sr. Porchas at ‘‘lo de Campa’’ for permission to collect. The Field Museum (D. Willard, S. Hackett) provided the sample of M. kieneri. D. Dittmann prepared some purified mtDNAs. A. Fry, J. Klicka, K. Johnson, S. Lanyon, K. Omland, and J. Weckstein provided helpful comments on the manuscript. Funding was provided by NSF Grant DEB-9317945. We thank SEDESOL for collecting permits, and USFW and USDA for import permits.


  • Classification
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Phylogenetics
  • Sequence evolution
  • Towhees


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