Wednesday, September 4, 2013

[Ornithology • 2013] Mohouidae: a new Family of Songbird from New Zealand | Phylogenetic Relationships of the Genus Mohoua, endemic hosts of New Zealand’s obligate brood parasitic Long-tailed Cuckoo Eudynamys taitensis

three songbirds from New Zealand – the Whitehead Mohoua albicilla, shown in this image, the Yellowhead Mohoua ochrocephala and the Brown Creeper Mohoua novaseelandiae– belong to a new bird family.
Image: Andrew Hardacre / CC BY 2.0.

 The three species of New Zealand’s endemic Mohoua genus are sole hosts of the obligate brood parasitic Long-tailed Cuckoo (Eudynamys taitensis), making their intrageneric phylogenetic relationships particularly important for coevolutionary studies. Also, recent molecular phylogenetic analyses have not identified the family-level placement of this genus. To resolve both intrageneric and family relationships, we generated new nuclear and mitochondrial sequence data and conducted phylogenetic analyses using Bayesian inference among representatives of endemic New Zealand passerines and Australasian ‘core Corvoidea’ lineages. The results establish strong intrageneric relationships of all three Mohoua species, confirm the monophyly of the genus, and suggest its placement in a re-erected monotypic family: Mohouidae.

Zachary Aidala, Nicola Chong, Michael G. Anderson, Luis Ortiz-Catedral, Ian G. Jamieson, James V. Briskie, Phillip Cassey, Brian J. Gill, Mark E. Hauber. 2013. Phylogenetic Relationships of the Genus Mohoua, endemic hosts of New Zealand’s obligate brood parasitic Long-tailed Cuckoo (Eudynamys taitensis). Journal of Ornithology. doi:

Ornithologists Describe New Songbird Family – the Mohouidae – from New Zealand

The make this discovery, the team analyzed DNA of three bird species: the Whitehead (Mohoua albicilla), the Yellowhead (Mohoua ochrocephala) and the Brown Creeper (Mohoua novaseelandiae).

“It’s an achievement that has international significance as the taxonomy of birds, especially Australasian songbirds, is the subject of intense research. By conducting DNA sequencing of three bird species — two of them for the first time — the testing confirmed what had been suspected since the 1950s,” explained Dr Luis Ortiz-Catedral and Dr Michael Anderson, both from Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand, who reported the results in the Journal of Ornithology.

The discovery brings the number of New Zealand endemic songbird families to five and increases the number of endemic vertebrate families from 13 to 14 (11 bird, 1 frog, 1 bat, 1 tuatara).