Proposal (426) to South American Classification Committee


Place Chlorospingus in the Emberizidae



Effect of Proposal: This would remove the genus Chlorospingus from Incertae Sedis to the Emberizidae.


Background:  Here’s our Note from current SACC classification:


1. Genetic data (REFS, Burns et al. 2002, 2003) indicate the genus Chlorospingus is not a member of the Thraupidae, but (Klicka et al. 2007, DaCosta et al. 2009) a member of the Emberizidae. Frank Pitelka (in Tordoff 1954a) long ago noted the emberizine-like behavior of Chlorospingus.


New information:  Klicka et al. (2007) presented the genetic data that show that Chlorospingus is embedded in the Emberizidae.  Their tree is as follows:



What the tree shows is that even with the limited number of emberizine taxa sampled (Klicka et al. 2007 is focused on Cardinalidae), Chlorospingus is a member of a group that includes most of the W. Hemisphere emberizids, and that group is sister to E. Hemisphere Emberiza.


DaCosta et al. (2009) dramatically expanded sampling within the Emberizidae to include most genera; Chlorospingus remained nested within the Emberizidae and is the sister to a group of genera that consists of Aimophila, Ammodramus, and Arremonops.  A portion of their tree is shown below:




Ongoing additional taxon- and gene-sampling by Klicka and colleagues will undoubtedly better resolve the placement of Chlorospingus as well as produce a refined tree for the Emberizidae, so for now, I would say there is no need to worry about where to place it other than either the beginning or end of Emberizidae in the linear sequence, with a Note that explains that this is a tentative solution.


Recommendation: The genetic data are solid for placement within our Emberizidae, as currently defined, so I recommend a YES.




DaCOSTA, J. M., G. M. SPELLMAN, P. ESCALANTE, AND J. KLICKA.  2009.  A molecular systematic revision of two historically problematic songbird clades: Aimophila and Pipilo.  J. Avian Biology 40: 206-216.

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


Van Remsen, March 2010




Comments solicited from John Klicka: “According to the available mtDNA data, the genus Chlorospingus is clearly a member of the emberizid clade, although, it's exact placement within this assemblage remains unclear.”


Comments from Thomas Donegan: “This comment is restricted to the issue of linear placement.  We seek to avoid incertae sedis where possible in the Colombian checklist and hence placed Chlorospingus in the Emberizidae last year (Salaman et al. 2009) based on the papers referred to in this proposal.  We concluded that the better linear placement was at the end of the Emberizidae.  Thraupidae (and hence Chlorospingus) are currently listed before Emberizidae, so one could place Chlorospingus first for that reason.  We placed them at the end for two other reasons.  First, "unplaced" genera traditionally go at the end rather than the start of the order.  Secondly, aesthetically, it would be a bit confusing to have a family that most people relate to finches and sparrows start off with a bunch of birds called (and for a long time thought of as) tanagers.  The generic order of this family clearly needs some work, so this placement will obviously need to be revised in future.”


Comments from Stiles:  YES. Although the exact placement of Chlorospingus in the Emberizidae remains to be determined, their allocation to this family seems clear – and it is a relief to get Chlorospingus out of the onerous “incertae sedis”, at least at the family level!”


Comments from Nores: “YES, los análisis moleculares de Klicka et al. (2007) y de DaCosta et al (2009) muestran claramente que Chlorospingus no es un Thraupidae como era antes considerado sino un Emberizidae. Sin embargo, yo no veo que la opinión de Frank Pitelka citada por Tordoff 1954 de que Chlorospingus tiene comportamiento de Emberizidae, sea muy acertada. Son pequeños pájaros moviéndose activamente en las copas de los árboles, para mi recuerdan más a ciertos Thraupidae (por ejemplo, Tangara) que a Emberizidae.”