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

R. Terry Chesser, American Museum of Natural History
F. Keith Barker, University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Robb T. Brumfield, Louisiana State University


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. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.