What is not a bird of paradise? Molecular and morphological evidence places Macgregoria in the Meliphagidae and the Cnemophilinae near the base of the corvoid tree

Joel Cracraft, Julie Feinstein


The cnemophiline ‘birds of paradise’ (Cnemophilinae) and Macgregor's ‘bird of paradise’ (Macgregoria) have traditionally been included in the Paradisaeidae although their relationships within the group have been enigmatic and subject to repeated discussion in the literature. Here we use sequences from two mitochondrial genes, cytochrome b and cytochrome oxidase I, along with a suite of morphological characters, to investigate their relationships to paradisaeids and other members of the passerine Parvorder Corvida. The combined data strongly support the removal of both groups from the birds of paradise: the cnemophilines are basal members of the Corvoidea and Macgregoria is a member of the Meliphagoidea and embedded in the honeyeaters (Meliphagidae) close to the genus Melipotes. The amount of sequence divergence among basal passeriforms and members of the Corvida, as well as available fossil evidence for Australian corvidans, suggest that cnemophilines represent an ancient lineage within the corvoid radiation. Because cnemophilines and Macgregoria have been placed at the base of the paradisaeid tree, hypotheses of morphological, behavioural and ecological character–state transformations within the family will require reanalysis.

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