Original Article

Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 146, Issue 2, pp 103-110

First online:

On the phylogenetic position of the Okinawa woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii)

  • Hans WinklerAffiliated withKonrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology, Austrian Academy of Sciences Email author 
  • , Nobuhiko KotakaAffiliated withYambaru Wildlife Center, Ministry of the Environment
  • , Anita GamaufAffiliated withMuseum of Natural History
  • , Franziska NittingerAffiliated withMuseum of Natural History
  • , Elisabeth HaringAffiliated withMuseum of Natural History

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The Okinawa woodpecker Sapheopipo noguchii is the rarest extant woodpecker species. The monotypic genus Sapheopipo was considered to be a representative of an old lineage of woodpeckers that led to the Eurasian genera Picus and the Blythipicus–Gecinulus species. This view, based on similarities in color patterns, external morphology and foraging behavior, has been adopted in all major accounts of the family. The alternative view, that this woodpecker may be related to the widespread white-backed woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos, which evolved distinctive subspecies on other East Asian islands, has not been generally accepted. We analyzed partial sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b (cyt b) gene to test these hypotheses. The data suggest that the Okinawa woodpecker is a member of the genus Dendrocopos, with white-backed woodpecker and great spotted woodpecker D. major as close relatives. Color patterns support the genetic results and indicate a closer relationship with the white-backed woodpecker. Consequently, the correct taxonomic designation of the Okinawa woodpecker would be Dendrocopos noguchii (Seebohm in Ibis 5(5):173–182, 1887) in the tribe Campetherini rather than Picini.


Picidae Phylogeny Island Sapheopipo Dendrocopos