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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2007 Sep;44(3):1031-56. Epub 2007 Apr 5.

A comprehensive molecular phylogeny of the starlings (Aves: Sturnidae) and mockingbirds (Aves: Mimidae): congruent mtDNA and nuclear trees for a cosmopolitan avian radiation.

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  • 1Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program, Laboratory of Ornithology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14950, USA.


We generated a comprehensive phylogeny for the avian families Sturnidae (starlings, mynas, Rhabdornis, oxpeckers, and allies) and Mimidae (mockingbirds, thrashers, and allies) to explore patterns of morphological and behavioral diversification. Reconstructions were based on mitochondrial DNA sequences from five coding genes (4108 bp), and nuclear intron sequences from four loci (2974 bp), for most taxa, supplemented with NDII gene sequences (1041 bp) derived from museum skin specimens from additional taxa; together the 117 sampled taxa comprise 78% of the 151 species in these families and include representatives of all currently or recently recognized genera. Phylogenetic analyses consistently identified nine major clades. The basal lineage is comprised of the two Buphagus oxpeckers, which are presently confined to Africa where they are obligately associated with large mammals. Some species in nearly all of the other major clades also feed on or around large vertebrates, and this association may be an ancestral trait that fostered the world-wide dispersal of this group. The remaining taxa divide into sister clades representing the New-World Mimidae and Old-World Sturnidae. The Mimidae are divided into two subclades, a group of Central American and West Indian catbirds and thrashers, and a pan-American clade of mockingbirds and thrashers. The Sturnidae are subdivided into six clades. The Phillipine endemic Rhabdornis are the sister lineage to a larger and substantially more recent radiation of South Asian and Pacific island starlings and mynas. A clade of largely migratory or nomadic Eurasian starlings (within which the basal lineage is the model taxon Sturnus vulgaris) is allied to three groups of largely African species. These reconstructions confirm that Buphagus should not be included in the Sturnidae, and identify many genera that are not monophyletic. They also highlight the substantial diversity among the major Sturnidae subclades in rates of species accumulation, morphological differentiation, and behavioral variation.

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