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Systematics of Serinus canaries and the status of Cape and Yellow-crowned Canaries inferred from mtDNA and morphology

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The taxonomy of, and phylogenetic relationships among, African canaries typically assigned to the genus Serinus sensu lato (including the putative genera Alario, Pseudochloroptila, Serinops, Ochrospiza, Dendrospiza and Crithagra) were investigated, based on 823bp of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Two clades emerged: (1) Palaearctic and Afrotropical taxa, including Serinus serinus, S. canaria, A. alario and the S. canicollis complex (S. c. canicollis, thompsonae and flavivertex), and (2) taxa endemic to the Afrotropics comprising Pseudochloroptila, Serinops, Ochrospiza, Poliospiza, Dendrospiza, Poliospiza and Crithagra spp. However, only clade one has jackknife and bootstrap support values above 50. The two clades were separated by Carduelis taxa, suggesting that Serinus sensu lato is not monophyletic. As it stands, the phylogeny does not support the recognition of Alario and Serinops and possibly Ochrospiza, Dendrospiza and Pseudochloroptila (Cape siskins) as distinct genera. Alario is sister to Serinus canicollis whereas the others are intermingled in a clade comprised primarily by Crithagra spp. The use of Serinus is confined to the Palaearctic canaries and allied species, and Crithagra for the strictly Afrotropical clade. Since the cytochrome b sequence divergence between the allopatric Cape (S. [c.] canicollis) and Yellow-crowned (S. [c.] flavivertex) canaries (2.8%) was similar to differences between other closely-related species and there are marked plumage differences between these taxa, we suggest that they be elevated to full species rank.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2004

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