We studied relationships of five extant members of the endemic Malagasy family Brachypteraciidae, the ground rollers, using several mitochondrial genes (cytochrome-b, NADH dehydrogenase 2, 12S ribosomal RNA, and cytochrome oxidase I). As outgroups, we used other coraciiforms including the Cuckoo Roller (Family Leptosomatidae, Leptosomus discolor), several true rollers (Corcaciidae) and a tody (Todidae). Partial sequences of the Long-tailed Ground Roller (Uratelornis chimaera) were obtained from toe pad samples taken off museum specimens. For a combined data set of all genes, Kimura two-parameter distances between sequences of the five ground roller species were high, averaging 11% divergence. For several species, samples were available from widely separated geographic regions and intraspecific sequence divergence was low (≤0.8%). Unweighted and weighted parsimony and maximum-likelihood analyses consistently recovered monophyly of the family, a sister relationship between Brachypteraciidae and Coraciidae, and monophyly of one of three currently recognized ground roller genera (Atelornis). At the base of the Brachypteraciidae clade, we could not fully resolve relationships between Uratelornis and two species currently placed in Brachypteracias. Because of the uncertainty of basal nodes in our phylogenetic reconstructions, we recommend returning B. squamigera to the monotypic genus Geobiastes. High levels of divergence among ground rollers are similar to levels found in other avian groups endemic to Madagascar. However, we suggest that molecular divergences appear far too low to be consistent with mid-Eocene fossils attributed to the family.
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Vol. 118 • No. 4