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Miocene diversification of an open-habitat predatorial passerine radiation, the shrikes (Aves: Passeriformes: Laniidae)

Journal article
Authors J. Fuchs
P. Alstrom
R. Yosef
Urban Olsson
Published in Zoologica Scripta
Volume 48
Issue 5
Pages 571-588
ISSN 0300-3256
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 571-588
Language en
Keywords biogeography, gregarious behaviour, Lanius, migratory behaviour, molecular phylogeny, radiation, founder-event speciation, african bush-shrikes, adaptive radiation, phylogenetic-relationships, ecological constraints, molecular phylogeny, genomic divergence, helping-behavior, geographic range, taxonomic status, Evolutionary Biology, Zoology
Subject categories Zoology, Evolutionary Biology


Diversification of avifaunas associated with savannah and steppes appears to correlate with open habitats becoming available, starting in the Miocene. Few comparative analyses exist for families for which all species are predominantly adapted to these habitats. One such group is Laniidae (Passeriformes), which are small- to medium-sized predatory passerines known for their distinctive behaviour of impaling prey. We used multispecies coalescent-based and concatenation methods to provide the first complete species-level phylogeny for this group, as well as an estimate of the timing of diversification. Our analyses indicate that Laniidae as currently delimited is not monophyletic, as the genus Eurocephalus is not closely related to the remaining species. The two species currently assigned to the monotypic genera Urolestes and Corvinella are part of the same clade as the Lanius species, and we propose that they are included in the genus Lanius, making Laniidae monogeneric. The initial diversification of the clade is inferred to have occurred very rapidly, starting about 7.2-9.1 million years ago, timing depending on calibration method, but in either case coinciding with the expansion of C4 grasses. An African origin is inferred in the biogeographic analysis. In the redefined Laniidae, cooperative breeding is inferred to be restricted to a single clade, characterized by gregarious behaviour and rallying. Migratory behaviour evolved multiple times within the family.

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