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6 February 2024 Diversification and dispersal in the Americas revealed by new phylogenies of the wrens and allies (Passeriformes: Certhioidea)
Tyler S. Imfeld, F. Keith Barker, Hernán Vázquez-Miranda, Jaime A. Chaves, Patricia Escalante, Garth M. Spellman, John Klicka
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The passerine superfamily Certhioidea lacks a complete phylogeny despite decades of recognition as a clade and extensive systematic work within all its constituent families. Here, we inferred a near-complete species-level phylogeny of Certhioidea from a molecular supermatrix, including the first comprehensive sampling of the wrens (Troglodytidae), and used this phylogeny to infer its biogeographic and diversification histories. We also inferred an expanded phylogeny including nearly 100 putative phylospecies previously documented in the literature, and we found that including this diversity had notable impacts on the inferred evolutionary history of Certhioidea. This phylospecies-level tree documented a few instances of species paraphyly, some previously described in the literature and some novel. We found that Certhioidea originated largely in Eurasia and dispersed into North America five times in the last 20 million years, including at the origin of the “New World certhioids,” wrens and gnatcatchers, a clade herein named Orthourae. After this initial dispersal event, both wrens and gnatcatchers diversified extensively across the hemisphere, with both lineages repeatedly crossing between continents. However, we detected no notable impact of the formation of the Isthmus of Panama on the frequency of dispersal events between North and South America. The inclusion of phylospecies altered this biogeographic inference in some portions of the tree but overall was largely consistent. With species-level sampling, we found that diversification rates within Certhioidea were largely constant through time with a detectable deceleration toward the present. By contrast, phylospecies-level sampling recovered a different diversification history with a significant rate increase at the crown node of Orthourae after dispersing into the Americas and increased speciation rates particularly within the genera Polioptila and Henicorhina. This largely resolved phylogeny for Certhioidea has yielded important insights into the evolutionary history of this group and provides a framework for future comparative work on this fascinating clade.


  • Wrens are one of the most diverse songbird groups in the Americas, but we currently lack a complete understanding of their evolutionary history in relation to their relatives: the gnatcatchers, nuthatches, tree creepers, and Wallcreeper.

  • We addressed this gap in knowledge by combining existing and new sequence data to estimate a near-complete phylogenetic tree for the wrens and their allies that is largely consistent with previous studies, but not well resolved for a subgroup of the wrens.

  • This tree informed us that this group originated in Eurasia and has dispersed several times to Africa and North America in the last 20 million years.

  • By including nearly 100 phylospecies, we demonstrated that the potential underestimation of the diversity in this group may alter our understanding of this group's evolutionary history across space and time.

La superfamilia de aves paseriformes Certhioidea carece de una filogenia completa, a pesar de décadas de reconocimiento como un clado y de extenso trabajo sistemático dentro de todas sus familias constituyentes. Aquí, inferimos una filogenia casi completa a nivel de especie de Certhioidea a partir de una supermatriz molecular, incluyendo el primer muestreo completo de Troglodytidae, y utilizamos esta filogenia para inferir sus historias biogeográficas y de diversificación. También inferimos una filogenia expandida que incluye cerca de 100 filoespecies putativas anteriormente documentadas en la literatura, y encontramos que incluir esta diversidad tuvo impactos notables en la historia evolutiva inferida de Certhioidea. Este árbol a nivel de filoespecies documentó algunos casos de parafilia de especies, algunos previamente descritos en la literatura y otros novedosos. Encontramos que Certhioidea se originó principalmente en Eurasia y se dispersó en América del Norte cinco veces en los últimos 20 millones de años, incluyendo en el origen a los “certhioides del Nuevo Mundo,” troglodítidos y atrapamoscas, un clado llamado Orthourae en este estudio. Después de este evento inicial de dispersión, tanto los troglodítidos como los atrapamoscas se diversificaron ampliamente en el hemisferio, con ambos linajes cruzando repetidamente entre continentes. Sin embargo, no detectamos un impacto notable de la formación del Istmo de Panamá en la frecuencia de eventos de dispersión entre América del Norte y del Sur. La inclusión de filoespecies alteró esta inferencia biogeográfica en algunas partes del árbol, pero en general fue en gran medida consistente. Con el muestreo a nivel de especie, encontramos que las tasas de diversificación dentro de Certhioidea fueron en gran medida constantes a lo largo del tiempo, con una desaceleración detectable hacia el presente. En contraste, el muestreo a nivel de filoespecie recuperó una historia de diversificación diferente, con un aumento significativo en la tasa en el nodo de la corona de Orthourae después de dispersarse en las Américas, y tasas de especiación aumentadas especialmente en los géneros Polioptila y Henicorhina. Esta filogenia, en gran medida resuelta, para Certhioidea, ha proporcionado perspectivas importantes sobre la historia evolutiva de este grupo y brinda un marco para futuros trabajos comparativos en este fascinante clado.

Tyler S. Imfeld, F. Keith Barker, Hernán Vázquez-Miranda, Jaime A. Chaves, Patricia Escalante, Garth M. Spellman, and John Klicka "Diversification and dispersal in the Americas revealed by new phylogenies of the wrens and allies (Passeriformes: Certhioidea)," Ornithology 141(2), 1-15, (6 February 2024).
Received: 3 August 2023; Accepted: 18 January 2024; Published: 6 February 2024
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