Systematics of Zoothera thrushes, and a synthesis of true thrush molecular systematic relationships

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution







First page number:


Last page number:



The true thrushes (Turdinae; Sibley and Monroe, 1990) are a speciose lineage of songbirds, with a near-cosmopolitan distribution. Following the systematic placement of true thrushes as a close relative of Old World flycatchers and chats (Muscicapinae) by the DNA–DNA hybridization work of Sibley and Ahlquist (1990), a number of molecular systematic studies have focused on various aspects of true thrush relationships. These studies have included phylogenetic assessments of genera membership in true thrushes, assessments of relationships among and within true thrush genera, and the recognition of “new” species ([Bowie et al., 2003], [Bowie et al., 2005], [Outlaw et al., 2003], [Voelker and Spellman, 2004], [Klicka et al., 2005], [Miller et al., 2007] and [Voelker et al., 2007]).

Despite improved hypotheses of true thrush relationships, several problems remain. One problem involves several genera that are either monotypic (Hylocichla, Ridgwayia, Chlamydocaera), that contain just a few species (Cochoa, Sialia, Neocossyphus), or that appear to be distantly related to other genera (Sialia, Myadestes, Neocossyphus). While each of these genera have been phylogenetically placed within well supported true thrush subclades (Klicka et al., 2005), their sister relationships are not well supported within those clades. This issue might be attributable to a lack of dense taxon sampling across true thrush species, in previous analyses.

Another problem involves the use of improper or “too distant” outgroups, which can affect resolution within single genera. For example, in a study of species relationships within the genus Catharus, Outlaw et al. (2003) used as outgroups two species each from the genera Turdus and Zoothera. It has subsequently been shown that neither was an appropriate genus to root Catharus, as both are distantly related (Klicka et al., 2005). More recently, Miller et al. (2007) used a single member of the genus Sialia to root their analyses of the genus Myadestes, despite both morphological and molecular analyses which suggested that Neocossyphus is probably a close relative, if not the sister taxon to Myadestes ( [Ames, 1975], [Olson, 1989], [Pasquet et al., 1999] and [Klicka et al., 2005]).

Questions regarding inter-specific relationships remain within both Catharus and Myadestes. At the inter-generic level, Klicka et al. (2005) conducted analyses of true thrush relationships, using the SialiaMyadestes–Neocossyphus clade (hereafter referred to as the “Sialia clade”) as the outgroup. While clearly a true thrush lineage, the Sialia clade is very divergent from other true thrush lineages. Homoplasy caused by the use of this divergent clade as a root could explain at least some of the as yet unresolved inter-generic relationships within true thrushes.

Our main objective in this study is to use dense taxon sampling across true thrushes to resolve inter- and intra-generic relationships that remain unclear. We also hope to determine the extent of “Zoothera” polyphyly and identify a core clade of true Zoothera species. To accomplish these goals, we include new and existing sequence data from true thrush species, and use as outgroups true thrush genera that are clearly sister-groups to those groups containing unresolved nodes.


Biology--classification; Molecular genetics; Phylogeny; Thrushes; Turdinae


Evolution | Molecular Genetics | Ornithology | Population Biology




Use Find in Your Library, contact the author, or use interlibrary loan to garner a copy of the article. Publisher copyright policy allows author to archive post-print (author’s final manuscript). When post-print is available or publisher policy changes, the article will be deposited.


DOI: http://ezproxy.library.unlv.edu/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2008.06.014

UNLV article access

Search your library