Senckenbergiana lethaea

, Volume 84, Issue 1–2, pp 317–322 | Cite as

Phylogenetic relationships of the early Tertiary Messel rails (Aves, Messelornithidae)

  • Gerald Mayr


Messel rails (Messelornithidae) are among the best represented fossil birds and are considered to be the sister taxon of the extant South American sunbittern (Eurypygidae). However, it is shown that the original description of these birds contains several misinterpretations and that the presumed synapomorphies of the taxon (Messelornithidae + Eurypygidae) are not present in Messel rails. Moreover, it is generally assumed that the closest extant relative of sunbitterns is the New Caledonian kagu (Rhynochetidae), and Messel rails lack significant derived characters supporting monophyly of the taxon (Rhynochetidae + Eurypygidae). Derived characters are presented which support sister group relationship between Messelornithidae and the taxon (Rallidae + Heliornithidae).

Key words

Aves Eocene Messelornithidae phylogenetic relationships 


Messelrallen (Messelornithidae) zählen zu den häufigsten fossilen Vögeln und werden für das Schwestertaxon der rezenten Sonnenrallen (Eurypygidae) gehalten. Die Originalbeschreibung dieser Vögel enthält allerdings einige Fehlinterpretationen und die mutmaßlichen Synapomorphien des Taxons (Messelornithidae + Eurypygidae) konnten für die Messelrallen nicht bestätigt werden. Es wird darüber hinaus im allgemeinen angenommen, daß der nächste lebende Verwandte der Sonnenrallen der neukaledonische Kagu (Rhynochetidae) ist und Messelrallen fehlen wichtige Synapomorphien des Taxon (Rhynochetidae + Eurypygidae). Abgeleitete Merkmale werden beschrieben, die eine Schwestergruppenbeziehung zwischen den Messelornithidae und dem Taxon (Rallidae + Heliornithidae) begründen.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baumel, J. J. &Witmer, L. M. (1993): Osteologia. — In: J. J.Baumel, A. S.King, J. E.Breazile, H. E.Evans & J. C.Vanden Berge [Eds], Handbook of avian anatomy: Nomina Anatomica Avium. — Publications of the Nuttall Ornithological Club,23: 45–132, 18 text-figs; Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  2. Cracraft, J. (1982): Phylogenetic relationships and transantarctic biogeography of some gruiform birds. — Geobios, mém. spéc.,6: 393–402, 1 text-fig.; Lyon.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cracraft, J. (2001): Avian evolution, Gondwana biogeography and the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction event. — Proc. R. Soc. Lond. (B),268: 459–469, 6 text-figs; London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Feduccia, A. (1996): The Origin and Evolution of birds. — 1–420; New Haven and London (Yale University Press).Google Scholar
  5. Hesse, A. (1988a): Die †Messelornithidae — eine neue Familie der Kranichartigen (Aves: Gruiformes: Rhynocheti) aus dem Tertiär Europas und Nordamerikas. — J. Ornithol.,129: 83–95, 2 pls; Berlin.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hesse, A. (1988b): Taxonomie der Ordnung Gruiformes (Aves) nach osteologischen morphologischen Kriterien unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der †Messelornithidae Hesse 1988. — Cour. Forsch.-Inst. Senckenberg,107: 235–247, 3 pls; Frankfurt.Google Scholar
  7. Hesse, A. (1990): Die Beschreibung der Messelornithidae (Aves: Gruiformes: Rhynocheti) aus dem Alttertiär Europas und Nordamerikas. — Cour. Forsch.-Inst. Senckenberg,128: 1–176, 15 text-figs, 12 pls; Frankfurt.Google Scholar
  8. Hesse, A. (1992): A new species ofMesselornis (Aves: Gruiformes: Messelornithidae) from the Middle Eocene Green River Formation. — In: K. E.Campbell [Ed], Papers in Avian Paleontology honoring Pierce Brodkorb. — Los Angeles Co. Mus. Nat. Hist., Sci. Ser.,36: 171–178, 10 text-figs; Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  9. Houde, P. (1988): Palaeognathous birds from the early Tertiary of the Northern Hemisphere. — Publications of the Nuttall Ornithological Club,22: 1–148, 41 text-figs, 26 tabs; Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  10. Houde, P. (1994): Evolution of the Heliornithidae: Reciprocal illumination by morphology, biogeography and DNA hybridization (Aves, Gruiformes). — Cladistics,10: 1–19, 9 text-figs, 2 tabs; Westport, Conn..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Houde, P., Cooper, A., Leslie, E., Strand, A. E. &Montaño, G. A. (1997): Phylogeny and Evolution of 12S rDNA in Gruiformes (Aves). — In:D. P. Mindell [Ed], Avian Molecular Evolution and Systematics: 121–158, 14 text-figs; San Diego, (Academic Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Livezey, B. C. (1998): A phylogenetic analysis of the Gruiformes (Aves) based on morphological characters, with an emphasis on the rails (Rallidae). — Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond., B,353: 2077–2151, 14 text-figs, 4 tabs; London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Livezey, B. C. &Zusi, R. L. (2001): Higher-order phylogenetics of modern Aves based on comparative anatomy. — Netherl. J. Zool.,51: 179–205, 3 text-figs; Leiden.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mayr, G. (2002): On the osteology and phylogenetic affinities of the Pseudasturidae — Lower Eocene stem-group representatives of parrots (Aves, Psittaciformes). — Zool. J. Linn. Soc.,136: 715–729, 9 text-figs; London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mayr, G. &Ericson, P. (in press): Evidence for a sister group relationship between the Madagascan mesites (Mesitornithidae) and cuckoos (Cuculidae). — Senck. biol.; Frankfurt.Google Scholar
  16. Mayr, G. &Smith, R. (2001): Ducks, rails, and limicoline waders (Aves: Anseriformes, Gruiformes, Charadriiformes) from the lowermost Oligocene of Belgium. — Géobios,34: 547–561, 7 text-figs; Lyon.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Mourer-Chauviré, C. (1995): The Messelornithidae (Aves: Gruiformes) from the Paleogene of France. — Cour. Forsch.-Inst. Senckenberg,181: 95–105, 2 text-figs, 2 pls, 2 tabs; Frankfurt.Google Scholar
  18. Olson, S. L. (1985): The fossil record of birds. — In: D. S.Farner, J. R.King & K. C.Parkes [Eds], Avian Biology,8: 79–238, 11 text-figs; New York (Academic Press).Google Scholar
  19. Peters, D. S. (1991): Zoogeographical relationships of the Eocene avifauna from Messel (Germany). — In:B. D. Bell, R. O. Cossee, J. E. C. Flux, B. D. Heather, R. A. Hitchmough, C. J. R. Robertson &M. J. Williams [Eds], Acta XX Congressus Internationalis Ornithologici: 572–577; Christchurch (New Zealand Ornithological Congress Trust Board).Google Scholar
  20. Sibley, C. G. &Ahlquist, J. E. (1990): Phylogeny and classification of birds: A study in molecular evolution. — 1–976, 385 text-figs, 20 tabs; New Haven and London (Yale University Press).Google Scholar
  21. Strauch, J. G. (1978): The phylogeny of the Charadriiformes (Aves): a new estimate using the method of character compatibility analysis. — Trans. zool. Soc. Lond.,34: 263–345, 36 text-figs, 2 tabs; London.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© E. Schweizerbart’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sektion OrnithologieForschungsinstitut SenckenbergFrankfurt am Main

Personalised recommendations