A molecular phylogeny of the African widowbirds and bishops, Euplectes spp. (Aves: Passeridae: Ploceinae)
Journal article, 2008
The elaborate male displays and plumage ornaments in the African widowbirds and bishops (Euplectes spp.) have inspired classic studies on mating systems and sexual selection. In order to study the extreme divergence in ornament design and expression in this group, we present and discuss a well-supported molecular phylogeny of the genus and its placement within the Ploceinae subfamily. Parsimony and Bayesian analyses were performed on 2557 bp of mitochondrial DNA (ATP6, Cyt b, ND2 and ND3) and a nuclear intron (G3PDH). All 17 Euplectes species, and 31 of 51 suggested subspecies, were included, as well as eight Ploceinae outgroups from four genera (Amblyospiza, Ploceus, Quelea and Foudia). Our results show monophyly of Euplectes, but not of the intrageneric groupings of bishops and widowbirds. Most notably, the Red-collared Widowbird E. ardens belongs to a subclade of bishops, and not to the sister subclade of ‘true’ widowbirds. Furthermore, the two bishops E. afer and E. aureus represent lineages that branched off before this basal split, which also refutes the proposed superspecies of E. afer and E. diadematus. Also somewhat surprisingly, and despite the striking plumage similarities among the red bishops, E. franciscanus is not closely related to either E. nigroventris or E. orix (of which it until recently was considered a subspecies). Finally, the Mountain Marsh Widowbird E. psammocromius is likely closest to the Long-tailed Widowbird E. progne, and not, as previously thought, to the Marsh Widowbird E. hartlaubi.
Evolution of plumage ornamentation