Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 146, Issue 1, pp 1–13

Molecular data reveal some major adaptational shifts in the early evolution of the most diverse avian family, the Furnariidae

  • Jon Fjeldså
  • Martin Irestedt
  • Per G. P. Ericson
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10336-004-0054-5

Cite this article as:
Fjeldså, J., Irestedt, M. & Ericson, P.G.P. J Ornithol (2005) 146: 1. doi:10.1007/s10336-004-0054-5


A robust phylogeny estimate for the family Furnariidae (sensu lato) was obtained using sequences of two nuclear introns and one mitochondrial gene (cyt b). Contrary to the widely accepted sister-group relationship of ovenbirds (Furnariinae) and woodcreepers (Dendrocolaptinae), a basal clade is suggested for Sclerurus and Geositta, while Xenops, hitherto considered an aberrant ovenbird, was found to occupy a basal position on the woodcreeper lineage. The morphological variation is re-interpreted in view of this revised phylogenetic hypothesis. Presumably, the remarkable adaptive radiation in this family started as primitive, Sclerurus-likes forms, which used the tail as a prop during terrestrial feeding, lured up to seek food on tree-trunks. The two basal woodcreeper genera, Xenops and then Glyphorynchus, show strong cranial specializations for hammering in wood, thus presenting a remarkable parallelism with the family Picidae, Xenops resembling a piculet, Glyphorynchus, a diminutive woodpecker. However, this specialization was lost in other woodcreepers, which show a more normal passerine skull, adapted for probing and prying in tree-trunk crevices and sallying for escaping insects. The ovenbirds developed a more flexible (rhynchokinetic) bill, well suited for probing and retrieving hidden prey in dead-leaf clusters and debris suspended in the vegetation, and in epiphyte masses. Adaptations to live in open terrain are secondary.


Adaptative shiftsBayesian analysisDendrocolaptinaeFurnariinaeNuclear introns

Supplementary material

Appendix1.pdf (29 kb)
Appendix 1 (PDF 30 KB)
Appendix2.pdf (21 kb)
Appendix 2 (PDF 22 KB)
SupplTables1-2.xls (82 kb)
Suppl. Tables1-2 (Excel 82 KB)

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V.  2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jon Fjeldså
    • 1
  • Martin Irestedt
    • 2
  • Per G. P. Ericson
    • 3
  1. 1.Zoological MuseumUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyUniversity of StockholmStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Department of Vertebrate Zoology and Molecular Systematics LaboratorySwedish Museum of Natural HistoryStockholmSweden