Copperback quail-thrush Cinclosoma castanotum fiordianum, copyright David Cook.

Belongs within: Euoscines.
Contains: Campephagidae, Vireonidae, Psophodes, Oriolidae, Pachycephalidae, Artamus, Cracticidae, Malaconotidae, Aegithina, Platysteiridae, Vangidae, Corvoidea.

The shrikes of the south
Published 24 April 2008
Black-backed magpie Gymnorhina tibicen, a member of the butcherbird family Cracticidae. Australian magpies are not closely related to the Eurasian true magpies (which are members of the crow family). They are best known for their vibrant warbling songs, and thinly veiled homicidal tendencies. Photo by Don Herbison-Evans.

Like them or loath them, there can be little argument that the introduction of molecular methods in the latter part of the last century revolutionised the study of phylogeny and evolution. In many cases, the results of molecular studies supported the theories already proposed about which taxa are related to which, and how. In other cases, molecular data came up with results that strongly contradicted what we thought we already knew. And in some cases, molecular studies gave results that had never been suggested before, but seemed perfectly reasonable in hindsight.

Black-headed gonolek Laniarius erythrogaster, a member of the African bush-shrike family Malaconotidae, photographed by Derek Ramsey.

I have spoken elsewhere about the new picture of oscine (songbird) phylogeny which has arisen from molecular studies of the group. Most of the Holarctic families of oscines belong to a clade called Passerida which is nested within a series of mostly Australo-Papuan clades. Of these Australo-Papuan clades, the most diverse is the Corvides which also includes a number of taxa that have dispersed outside of Oceania such as the crows and orioles (the proper Old World orioles, that is, not the American birds known as ‘orioles’ which are not orioles at all but members of the Passerida). Also included in the Corvoidea are the shrikes, Old World birds with hook-tipped bills that are more predatory than your average songbird.

White-breasted woodswallows Artamus leucorynchus, photographed by Romy Ocon.

In 2004, Barker et al. published a phylogeny of the oscines that resolved a number of clades within the Corvoidea. Among the most interesting clades identified by this study was one that united the bush shrikes (Malaconotidae) and helmet-shrikes (Prionopidae) of Africa (both previously counted as subfamilies of the Laniidae) with the woodswallows (Artamus) and butcherbirds (Cracticidae) of Australia. This was definitely one of the third class of molecular results that was unexpected but sensible, as the cracticids are in many ways the shrikes of Australia. The new clade, which lacks a name but which for convenience I’ll dub the ‘malaconotoid clade’, therefore combines many of the world’s shrike-like birds in one convenient package. The notable exceptions are the true Eurasian shrikes of the stripped-down family Laniidae, which are Corvoidea but whose affinities seem to lie elsewhere as the sister group of the crows, and the Asian shrike-babblers of the genus Pteruthius, which Reddy and Cracraft (2007) showed to be corvoids related to the American vireos.

Bornean bristlehead (Pityriasis gymnocephala). Authors had disagreed continuously over the years about whether Pityriasis was related to the shrikes or the cracticids – a somewhat ironic argument since the recognition of the malaconotoid clade. Photo by James Eaton—photos of this retiring bird are few and far between, making this all the more impressive.

Comparison with the other corvoids suggests that the malaconotoids had an Australian origin, a suggestion corroborated by the fact that the basalmost split in the group seems to be between the Australian taxa on one side and the African taxa on the other (Barker et al. 2004; Moyle et al. 2006). As with all good scientific theories, this brings up a further question—how did the malaconotoids get from Australia to Africa? To answer this question, it turns out that a collection of small southern Asian families also fall into the malaconotoid clade—the Platysteiridae, the ioras of the genus Aegithina, and the unusual Bornean bristlehead Pityriasis gymnocephala. The reasonable suggestion might therefore be made that southern Asia was used as a corridor by the malaconotoids on their way to Africa. Unfortunately, the evidence is a little more equivocal in this regard. It is true that the Asian taxa sit on the African side of the malaconotoid clade (Moyle et al. 2006—Fuchs et al. 2006, found Aegithina to be sister to the Australian taxa, but with low support), but there is no clear division between taxa from the two continents. Instead, the African and Asian taxa are mixed together, suggesting more than one dispersal between the continents and also unclear whether dispersal was from Asia to Africa or vice versa.

Diversity of vangas, from Yamagishi et al. (2001).

The other significant dispersal in the history of the malaconotoids was from Africa to Madagascar, where an ancestral malaconotoid gave rise to the vangas (Vangidae). The vangas were one of the very few oscine groups to reach Madagascar, and once there they formed an island radiation comparable to the honeycreepers of Hawaii or the finches of the Galapagos. While there are only twenty-one species of vanga, the group is spectacularly diverse ecologically, as shown above—so much so, in fact, that many of the species had been assigned to separate families and were only recognised as vangas recently (see Don Roberson’s page on the family for further details). Notable in this regard are the handsome sickle-billed vanga (Falculea palliata), the coral-billed nuthatch (Hypositta corallirostris) which bears an uncanny resemblance to the unrelated true nuthatches, and the large-billed helmetbird (Euryceros prevostii).

Systematics of Corvides
<==Corvides [Colluricinclidae]OF19
    |--Cinclosomatidae [Cinclosomatinae]OF19
    |    |--Ptilorrhoa Peters 1940JF07
    |    |    |--P. caerulescensJF06
    |    |    |--P. castanonotaJT12
    |    |    `--P. leucostictaJF11
    |    `--Cinclosoma Vigors & Horsfield 1827B94
    |         |--C. ajaxJT12
    |         |--C. castaneothorax Gould 1848JT12, WS48 (see below for synonymy)
    |         |--C. castanotum Gould 1840 [=C. castanotus; incl. C. castanotum dundasi Mathews 1912]WS48
    |         |    |--C. c. castanotumM03
    |         |    |--C. c. clarumM03
    |         |    `--C. c. fiordianumM03
    |         |--C. cinnamomeum Gould 1846 [=C. cinnamomeus]WS48
    |         |    |--C. c. cinnamomeumM03
    |         |    |--C. c. alisteri Mathews 1910 [incl. C. alisteri nullaborensis Campbell 1922]WS48
    |         |    `--C. c. tirariensisM03
    |         `--C. punctatumM03
    |              |--C. p. punctatumM03
    |              |--C. p. anachoretaM03
    |              `--C. p. doveiM03
       `--+--+--+--Mohoua Lesson 1837CC10 (see below for synonymy)
          |  |  |    |--M. novaeseelandiae (Gmelin 1789)JT12, WH02 (see below for synonymy)
          |  |  |    `--+--M. albicilla (Lesson in Duperrey 1830)JT12, CC10 (see below for synonymy)
          |  |  |       `--M. ochrocephala (Gmelin 1789)JT12, WH02 (see below for synonymy)
          |  |  `--Daphoenositta De Vis 1897B94 (see below for synonymy)
          |  |       |--D. chrysopteraJF06
          |  |       |    |--D. c. chrysopteraM03
          |  |       |    |--D. c. albataM03
          |  |       |    |--D. c. leucocephalaM03
          |  |       |    `--D. c. striataM03
          |  |       |--D. leucoptera (Gould 1839)M03, WS48 (see below for synonymy)
          |  |       |--D. mirandaJT12
          |  |       |--D. pileata (Gould 1838)M03, WS48 (see below for synonymy)
          |  |       `--D. trevorworthyiOF19
          |  `--OrioloideaOF19
          |       |--Eulacestoma [Eulacestomatidae]KF-V21
          |       |    `--E. nigropectusJF11
          |       `--+--+--Falcunculus Vieillot 1816B94 [FalcunculidaeOF19]
          |          |  |    `--F. frontatus (Latham 1801) [=Lanius frontatus]WS48
          |          |  |         |--F. f. frontatusWS48
          |          |  |         |--F. f. leucogaster Gould 1848 [incl. F. leucogaster stirlingi Mathews 1915]WS48
          |          |  |         `--F. f. whitei Campbell 1910WS48
          |          |  `--+--Oreoica Gould 1838B94 [OreoicidaeOF19]
          |          |     |    `--O. gutturalis (Vigors & Horsfield 1827) (see below for synonymy)WS48
          |          |     `--+--Ornorectes cristatusJF11 [=Pitohui cristatusJT12]
          |          |        `--Aleadryas rufinuchaJF11
          |          `--+--+--Paramythiidae [Paramythiinae]KF-V21
          |             |  |    |--Oreocharis arfakiOF19
          |             |  |    `--Paramythia De Vis 1892B94
          |             |  |         `--P. montiumJF06
          |             |  `--VireonidaeKF-V21
          |             `--+--+--Androphobus viridisJF11
          |                |  `--PsophodesKF-V21
          |                `--+--OriolidaeKF-V21
          |                   `--PachycephalidaeKF-V21
             |    |--Machaerirhynchus [Machaerirhynchidae]OF19
             |    |    |--M. flaviventerM03
             |    |    |    |--M. f. flaviventerM03
             |    |    |    `--M. f. secundusM03
             |    |    `--M. nigripectusJT12
             |    `--+--ArtamidaeOF19
             |       |    |--ArtamusOF19
             |       |    `--+--+--CracticidaeOF19
             |       |       |  |--Melloria quoyiOF19
             |       |       |  `--Kurrartapu johnnguyeniOF19
             |       |       `--PeltopsOF19
             |       |            |--P. blainvilliiJT12
             |       |            `--P. montanusJT12
             |       `--+--Rhagologus [Rhagologidae]OF19
             |          |    `--R. leucostigmaJF11
             |          `--+--+--MalaconotidaeOF19
             |             |  `--+--Pityriasis Lesson 1839B94 [PityriasidaeOF19, Pityriaseinae]
             |             |     |    `--P. gymnocephalaJT12
             |             |     `--AegithinaOF19
             |             `--+--PlatysteiridaeOF19
             |                `--VangidaeOF19

Cinclosoma castaneothorax Gould 1848JT12, WS48 [=C. castanotum castaneothoraxWS48; incl. C. marginatum Sharpe 1883WS48, C. castaneothorax marginatumM03, C. castaneothorax nea Mathews 1912WS48]

Daphoenositta De Vis 1897B94 [incl. Neositta Hellmayr 1901B94; Daphoenosittidae, Daphoenosittinae, NeosittidaeKF-V21, Neosittinae]

Daphoenositta leucoptera (Gould 1839)M03, WS48 [=Sittella leucopteraWS48, D. chrysoptera leucopteraM03, Neositta leucopteraWS48; incl. N. pileata broomei Mathews 1912WS48, N. pileata rogersi Mathews 1912WS48]

Daphoenositta pileata (Gould 1838)M03, WS48 [=Sittella pileataWS48, D. chrysoptera pileataM03, Neositta pileataWS48; incl. N. pileata broomi Mathews 1912WS48, Sittella melanocephala Gould 1838WS48, N. pileata milligani Mathews 1922WS48, N. pileata whitlocki Mathews 1912WS48]

Mohoua Lesson 1837CC10 [=Mohua Lesson 1840CC10; incl. Certhiparus Lafresnaye 1842B94, Clitonyx Reichenbach 1849CC10, Finschia Hutton 1903CC10, Phyllodytes Finsch 1873 non Wagler 1830CC10; Certhiparinae, MohouidaeOF19, Mohouinae, Mohouini]

Mohoua albicilla (Lesson in Duperrey 1830)JT12, CC10 [=Fringilla albicillaCC10, Certhiparus albicilla (l. c.)CC10, Ce. albicillusCC10, Clitonyx albicapillaCC10, Mohoua ochrocephala albicillaCC10, Orthonyx albicillaCC10, O. (Mohoua) albicillusCC10, Phyllodytes albicillaCC10; incl. Certhiparus cinerea Ellman 1861CC10, Ce. albicilla hautura Mathews 1935CC10, Parus senilis du Bus de Gisignies 1839CC10, *Ce. senilisCC10]

Mohoua novaeseelandiae (Gmelin 1789)JT12, WH02 [=Parus novaeseelandiaeCC10, Certhiparus novaeseelandiaeCC10, Ce. novaezealandiaeCC10, *Finschia novaeseelandiaeCC10, *Phyllodytes novaezealandiaeCC10; incl. Certhiparus maculicaudus Gray in Dieffenbach 1843CC10, Parus urostigma Forster in Lichtenstein 1844CC10, Ce. urostigmaCC10, Parus zelandicus Quoy & Gaimard in Dumont d’Urville 1830CC10]

Mohoua ochrocephala (Gmelin 1789)JT12, WH02 [=Muscicapa ochrocephalaCC10, Certhiparus ochrocephalusCC10, *Clitonyx ochrocephalaCC10, Mohua (l. c.) ochrocephalaCC10, Orthonyx ochrocephalaCC10; incl. Muscicapa chloris Forster in Lichtenstein 1844CC10, Certhia heteroclites Quoy & Gaimard in Dumont d’Urville 1830CC10, *Mohoua heteroclitesCC10, Orthonyx heteroclitus (l. c.)CC10, Mo. hua Lesson 1837CC10, O. icterocephalus Lafresnaye 1839CC10]

Oreoica gutturalis (Vigors & Horsfield 1827) [=Falcunculus gutturalis; incl. O. cristata lloydi Mathews 1917, O. cristata mungi Mathews 1912, O. cristata westralensis Mathews 1912]WS48

*Type species of generic name indicated


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