Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 146, Issue 1, pp 1–13 | Cite as

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

  • Jon FjeldsåEmail author
  • Martin Irestedt
  • Per G. P. Ericson
Original Article


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 shifts Bayesian analysis Dendrocolaptinae Furnariinae Nuclear introns 



Tissue samples were collected over many years by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in collaboration with the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural del Paraguay, San Lorenzo, and by the Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen supported by the Danish Research Council (mainly grants 11–0380 and 9502155). Important samples were also obtained from the American Museum of Natural History, New York (Paul Sweet). Mari Källersjö and Pia Eldenäs provided logistic support and advice for the work at the Molecular Systematics Laboratory at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. We are also grateful to Jan Ohlson and Dario Zuccon for assistance with sequence procedures. Funding for the laboratory work was provided by the Swedish Research Council (grant no. 621–2001–2773). Jan Bolding Kristensen is thanked for careful preparation of skeletons, and Gary Graves and Storrs Olson for providing a Xenops skeleton. Also thanks to Per Christiansen for comments on the morphological observations and for agreeing to follow up with a more thorough ecomorphological analysis of the cranial morphology of Xenops and Glyphorynchus skulls. Bruno Walther is thanked for translations to German.

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)


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V.  2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jon Fjeldså
    • 1
    Email author
  • 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

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