Proposal (#320) to South American Classification Committee

Transfer Amaurospiza to Cardinalidae


Effect on SACC: This would transfer a genus from Emberizidae to the Cardinalidae.

Background: SACC classification currently places Amaurospiza in the Emberizidae, with the following footnote:

37. Although linear classifications traditionally place Amaurospiza near Oryzoborus and Sporophila (e.g., Hellmayr 1938, Meyer de Schauensee 1970, Paynter 1970a), plumage pattern and habitat suggests a relationship to Cyanocompsa and Passerina in the Cardinalidae (Paynter 1970a). Amaurospiza was placed between Sporophila and Cyanospiza (= Passerina) by Ridgway (1901), who proposed a close relationship to Cyanospiza. Beecher (REF) and Tordoff (1954) used morphological characters to propose that Amaurospiza belonged in the Emberizidae and was thus not close to the cardinalines. Genetic data (Klicka et al. 2005) now confirm that Amaurospiza belongs on the Cardinalidae, as originally proposed by Ridgway. Proposal badly needed.

Thus, Ridgway had it right (as was usually the case) and Paynter was tempted to place it with Passerina.

New information: Klicka et al. (2007) with broad taxon-sampling, but only one Amaurospiza (A. concolor) confirmed what Ridgway and Paynter had suspected. Klicka et al.'s analysis included 102 genera of tanagers, emberizines, and cardinalines. The genetic sampling consisted of 2281 bp of two mitochondrial genes, ND2 and cyt-b ... a nice sample.

The critical node (#1 in their Fig. 1) that places Amaurospiza within a group that also consists of Piranga, Habia, Chlorothraupis, Cardinalis, Caryothraustes, Periporphyrus, Rhodothraupis, Pheucticus, Cyanocompsa, Granatellus, Cyanoloxia, Passerina, and Spiza has strong support (100% Bayesian, 78% MP bootstrap, 92% ML bootstrap); see the MS and Proposal 318 or additional details. Further, they found strong support for Amaurospiza forming a monophyletic group with Cyanocompsa cyanoides, C. brissonii, and Cyanoloxia (with Cyanocompsa parellina outside that group); thus, Amaurospiza forms a cozy cluster with a group of similarly plumaged (blue males and rufescent females), tropical seed-crushers.

Analysis and Recommendation: mtDNA is widely considered a reliable predictor of phylogeny at these levels of taxonomy, and certainly these data sets represent the first truly scientific estimates of the phylogeny and classification of this group. Amaurospiza is deeply embedded in this group, and the phenotypic signal for this is also strong. Thus, I recommend a YES vote on this one.


KLICKA, J., K. BURNS, AND G. M. SPELLMAN. 2007. Defining a monophyletic Cardinalini: A molecular perspective. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 45: 1014­1032.

[See SACC Literature Cited for others]

Van Remsen (in consultation with Kevin Burns and John Klicka), December 2007


Comments from Stiles: "YES. Again, the change is clearly mandated and makes good sense phenotypically as well. It is also reassuring to see Cardinalidae taking shape as a coherent family."

Comments from Zimmer: "YES. Genetic data are convincing, and coincide nicely with morphology (including plumage patterns of both male and female). I would note that vocal characters of Amaurospiza also fit nicely with Cyanocompsa."

Comments from Robbins: "YES, the unequivocal genetic data, in concert with the plumage morphology of male and female, make this a logical decision."

Comments from Pacheco: "YES. Os dados moleculares enfim corroboram a prévia sugestão. Concordo com Kevin que vocalmente há uma boa similaridade entre o repertório de Amaurospiza e Cyanocompsa."