Proposal (263) to South American Classification Committee


Transfer Veniliornis fumigatus to Picoides


Proposal: This proposal (and 262) would reflect better the conclusions of Moore et al. (2006)'s molecular study of Veniliornis and Picoides species. Rather different issues are involved in each proposal, so they are treated separately. A new linear order is needed, but this would vary depending on the outcome of the two votes, so a proposal is postponed for now.


V. fumigatus has always been a rather odd member of Veniliornis due to its plain-brown plumage with a lack of strong barring. Moore et al. (2006) showed it to be an early offshoot of a predominantly large North American Picoides clade, not closely related to any Veniliornis. The relevant nodes have strong support. This is an interesting and perhaps surprising result. However, Moore et al. note some plumage similarities between V. fumigatus and P. villosus sanctorum of Central America. Also, the distribution of this species north into Central America is unusual among Veniliornis.


A change is clearly mandated here. The only question is whether SACC should wait before doing so. As noted above, Picoides is likely to be paraphyletic as presently constituted, meaning that new genera will probably be necessary for several species at some point in the future. The type species of the genus (P. tridactylus) is a Eurasian species not part of the current fumigatus clade (although sampling of Picoides is limited and this could conceivably change). Moore et al. (2006) strongly recommended that V. fumigatus should be moved to the genus Picoides for now. Transferring to Picoides is clearly a vast improvement on Veniliornis for this species and I would suggest that the SACC should follow this recommendation. Splitting of Picoides could be regarded as a question for another date once the relevant research is done and publications are out, given that such a move has not been formally proposed in recent publications".


Recommendation: YES, but less emphatically than on the previous proposal.



MOORE, W. S., A. C. WEIBEL, AND A. AGIUS . 2006. Mitochondrial DNA phylogeny of the woodpecker genus Veniliornis (Picidae, Picinae) and related genera implies convergent evolution of plumage patterns. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 87: 611­624.


Thomas Donegan, January 2007





Comments from Stiles: "YES. Although the Moore et al. study uses only 2 mitochondrial genes, other studies using nuclear genes are consistent with the results presented in different aspects. So I think that the evidence for sending fumigatus to Picoides and mixtus and lignarius to Veniliornis looks pretty solid. I like the comments of the authors regarding the parallel recurrence of "modules" of plumage patterns among different members of a clade or family in response to ecological or other conditions - certainly this seems to occur from time to time in hummingbirds, and implies that one must be cautious in reading too much into plumage patterns!"


Comments from Nores: "YES. Aunque nunca hubiera pensado que fuera así y como dice Donegan con menos énfasis que en el caso anterior. De todos modos hay muy pocos elementos de juicio para poner en duda el análisis mitocondrial. En otras palabras, no veo otra opción que aceptar."


Comments from Cadena: "A tentative NO. I'm not entirely sure what to do here. Clearly, V. fumigatus does not appear to belong in Veniliornis and appears closely allied to species currently placed in Picoides, which calls for a change in classification. However, the Moore et al. study shows that Picoides as currently defined is not a monophyletic group, and the group in which V. fumigatus falls is not part of the clade that these authors call "Picoides sensu stricto". This implies that that clade will probably need a new genus name. Thus, although here we would tinker the classification with a reasonable goal (excluding fumigatus from a genus where it does not belong), the solution would not be entirely satisfactory because we would end up moving the species in question to a genus that is paraphyletic anyway. I see two possible solutions, which are actually not mutually exclusive: (1) Wait on this until a set of proposals solving the issue of the polyphyly of Picoides are dealt with and put fumigatus in a monophyletic genus, and (2) place "Veniliornis fumigatus" as incertae sedis regarding its generic placement. And of course, there's always the issue that a single gene is being used here, and I'd prefer to have evidence from a nuclear marker for changes at this level."


Comments from Robbins: "YES, although as pointed out by Daniel, this likely will lead to only a short-term adjustment. It may be some time before there is complete taxon sampling of Picoides, thus I think we should go ahead and make a change based on the data at hand. Nevertheless, I could be convinced to follow option two proposed by Daniel, i.e., placing fumigatus as incertae sedis."


Comments on woodpecker phylogeny from Laurent Raty: click.


Comments from Stiles: "YES.  Raty's comments give one pause, but I do not think that the currently unsettled situation in Picoides should prohibit placing fumigatus there.  Separating fumigatus as "incertae sedis" without doing the same for the other "misplaced" Picoides would simply have the effect of separating this species from its closest relatives.  One might decide to place all of the currently sequenced "small pied NA Picoides" as "incertae sedis" along with fumigatus, but given that a number of species have not been sequenced, including possible OW relatives of minor, such a move would simply extend the nomenclatural uncertainty.


“It seems better to place fumigatus in Picoides with its relatives for now, while noting that this genus requires additional study and almost certainly will be divided; when the relevant evidence appears, then move fumigatus and kin as a block to whatever generic allocation is appropriate.  Removing fumigatus from Veniliornis clearly corrects a wrong allocation; no definitively "right" allocation is at present available but placing it with a group of species now known to be its closest relatives is at least a step in the "right" direction."


Comments solicited from Bill Moore: "This is a tough one because moving fumigatus to Picoides would place it in a "genus" we know is paraphyletic. On the other hand, it clearly does belong to a clade (the "North American Large Picoides") now assigned to Picoides. Picoides is destined to be split and a genus that will result is the clade of "North American Large Picoides." Plausibly that clade could be named as a genus now-the biggest problem being uncertainty as to whether it would include borealis (most likely). Again, accepting that a classification should be dynamic, I agree that it should be moved to Picoides because it certainly is not Veniliornis, acknowledging that this will be short-lived."


Comments from Zimmer: "YES on removing it from Veniliornis. I would prefer Daniel's incertae sedis suggestion to moving it to Picoides, from which it might soon be moved anyway."


Comments from Jaramillo: "YES - See comments on proposal 262 as well. It seems clear that leaving fumigatus in Veniliornis is not the way to go, based on the published data. The problem is that we are putting it into Picoides, a genus we are pretty certain is polyphyletic. A suggestion is to put fumigatus in incertae sedis but I am not comfortable with that arrangement. Taxonomy is fluid, and things do change as better data come around. Right now we are reasonably certain that fumigatus is not a Veniliornis, and that it belongs with the large North American "Picoides," let's put it in Picoides for now and when the new data arrive which may split up Picoides we re-arrange again. It seems to me a logical and orderly progression, much more so than moving fumigatus to the limbo land, which is incertae sedis. Additionally, the call note of fumigatus always sounds much more like a North American Woodpecker (Hairy) to me than anything else."


Comments from Pacheco: "YES. Considero por ora a melhor medida. Um futuro e necessário trabalho acerca da filogenia do atual parafilético gênero Picoides deverá se ocupar, oportunamente, da subordinação mais apropriada de Picoides fumigatus."