You are here

Phylogenetics and diversification of tanagers (Passeriformes: Thraupidae), the largest radiation of Neotropical songbirds

TitlePhylogenetics and diversification of tanagers (Passeriformes: Thraupidae), the largest radiation of Neotropical songbirds
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsBurns KJ, Shultz AJ, Title PO, Mason NA, Barker FK, Klicka J, Lanyon SM, Lovette IJ
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Start Page41
Date PublishedJune 2014

Thraupidae is the second largest family of birds and represents about 4% of all avian species and 12% of the Neotropical avifauna. Species in this family display a wide range of plumage colors and patterns, foraging behaviors, vocalizations, ecotypes, and habitat preferences. The lack of a complete phylogeny for tanagers has hindered the study of this evolutionary diversity. Here, we present a comprehensive, species-level phylogeny for tanagers using six molecular markers. Our analyses identified 13 major clades of tanagers that we designate as subfamilies. In addition, two species are recognized as distinct branches on the tanager tree. Our topologies disagree in many places with previous estimates of relationships within tanagers, and many long-recognized genera are not monophyletic in our analyses. Our trees identify several cases of convergent evolution in plumage ornaments and bill morphology, and two cases of social mimicry. The phylogeny produced by this study provides a robust framework for studying macroevolutionary patterns and character evolution. We use our new phylogeny to study diversification processes, and find that tanagers show a background model of exponentially declining diversification rates. Thus, the evolution of tanagers began with an initial burst of diversification followed by a rate slowdown. In addition to this background model, two later, clade-specific rate shifts are supported, one increase for Darwin’s finches and another increase for some species of Sporophila. The rate of diversification within these two groups is exceptional, even when compared to the overall rapid rate of diversification found within tanagers. This study provides the first robust assessment of diversification rates for the Darwin’s finches in the context of the larger group within which they evolved.

Refereed DesignationRefereed