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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2010 Mar;54(3):897-909. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2009.11.014. Epub 2009 Dec 3.

Molecular systematics and evolution of the Cyanocorax jays.

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Museo de Zoología de Vertebrados QCAZ, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Av. 12 de Octubre 1076, Quito, Ecuador, USA.


Phylogenetic relationships were studied in the genus Cyanocorax (Aves: Corvidae) and related genera, Psilorhinus and Calocitta, a diverse group of New World jays distributed from the southern United States south to Argentina. Although the ecology and behavior of some species in the group have been studied extensively, lack of a molecular phylogeny has precluded rigorous interpretations in an evolutionary framework. Given the diverse combinations of plumage coloration, size, and morphology, the taxonomy of the group has been inconsistent and understanding of biogeographic patterns problematic. Moreover, plumage similarity between two geographically disjuct species, the Tufted jay (Cyanocorax dickeyi) from western Mexico and the White-tailed jay (C. mystacalis) from western Ecuador and Peru, has puzzled ornithologists for decades. Here, a phylogeny of all species in the three genera is presented, based on study of two mitochondrial and three nuclear genes. Phylogenetic trees revealed the non-monophyly of Cyanocorax, and the division of the whole assemblage in two groups: "Clade A" containing Psilorhinus morio, both species in Calocitta,Cyanocorax violaceus, C. caeruleus, C. cristatellus, and C. cyanomelas, and "Clade B" consisting of the remaining species in Cyanocorax. Relationships among species in Clade A were ambiguous and, in general, not well resolved. Within Clade B, analyses revealed the monophyly of the "Cissilopha" jays and showed no evidence for a sister relationship between C. mystacalis and C. dickeyi. The phylogenetic complexity of lineages in the group suggests several complications for the understanding biogeographic patterns, as well as for proposing a taxonomy that is consistent with morphological variation. Although multiple taxonomic arrangements are possible, recommendations are for recognizing only one genus, Cyanocorax, with Psilorhinus and Calocitta as synonyms.

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