Merge Cyanocompsa and Amaurospiza into Cyanoloxia


Proposal (457) to South American Classification Committee



Effect on South American CL: This would merge two genera, Amaurospiza and Cyanocompsa into Cyanoloxia.

Background: Our current Note is as follows:

24. Some authors merge Cyanocompsa into Passerina (e.g., Paynter 1970c). Klicka et al. (2001) found that the two genera are sisters. Klicka et al. (2007), with broader taxon sampling, confirmed that they are sister but that the Cyanocompsa group also included Cyanoloxia and Amaurospiza, and recommended the merger of the three genera (Cyanoloxia has priority). Proposal badly needed


New information: Klicka et al. (2007) analyzed two mitochondrial genes (cyt-b, ND2) for about 3/4 of the species in the Cardinalidae as well as several emberizid and thraupid genera to produce a phylogeny of the group.  Below is a part of their maximum-likelihood tree:


Klicka et al. made the following interpretations and taxonomic recommendations:


In our topology (Fig. 2), this complex is divided into two clades, although the exact position of Cyanocompsa parellina remains unresolved. Nevertheless, Cyanocompsa as shown is paraphyletic with respect to both Cyanoloxia and Amaurospiza. We favor a taxonomy that recognizes two clades within this group, Passerina, as presently recognized, and a revised Cyanocompsa. The genus Cyanoloxia (Bonaparte, 1850, Consp. Gen. Av., 1 (2), p. 503) has priority over Cyanocompsa and Amaurospiza (both Cabanis, 1861; J.F. Ornith, 9, pp. 3–4); thus, we recommend that these latter two genera be merged into Cyanoloxia. The sister to the Passerina–Cyanocompsa complex is the monotypic form Spiza. Because of its distinctive morphology and behaviors, and its systematic position outside of the core clade, we suggest that it is best retained as monotypic.

Analysis and Recommendation:  With only one of the three Amaurospiza species sampled, one might hesitate on such a merger until taxon sampling is complete.  However, I think most would be surprised if existing Amaurospiza were not a monophyletic group.  All of the males and females in the proposed broader Cyanoloxia share plumage similarities (dull dark-blue males, rich brown females), and a roughly similar bill; they differ primarily in body size, but not by much.  Many or all are birds of dense undergrowth.  Our current Cyanocompsa is already paraphyletic with respect to Cyanoloxia.  So, without personally knowing better their voices or other aspects of their ecology, I see no reason not to merge all into Cyanoloxia.  Without further input, however, I do not make any strong recommendation one way or another – I’ll wait to here from others.



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, August 2010





Comments from Stotz: “YES  On the few occasions when I have seen Amaurospiza, they seemed very much like a Cyanocompsa to me, just in bamboo.  Certainly Cyanoloxia and Cyanocompsa also seem like they belong together, so I have no problem with this change.  If we wanted to maintain Amaurospiza, we’d need to do something about C. parellina.  The real question this raises is whether a return to the broad Passerina is warranted.  With Amaurospiza included, that treatment would be a monophyletic unit.  Are there any morphological characters to separate Cyanoloxia and Passerina?”


Comments from Robbins: “YES, but a tentative yes, given that only one of the three Amaurospiza species has been included in the molecular data.  Doug brings up an interesting point, what is the rationale for maintaining these as separate genera from Passerina?”


Comments from Nacho Areta: “There is a huge problem with the merging of Cyanocompsa into Cyanoloxia: the type species of Cyanocompsa is Fringilla parellina, and this is the species whose position remains unresolved. Thus, in a strict sense, the position of Cyanocompsa is unresolved. This does not invalidate the possibility of merging other 'Cyanocompsa' and Amaurospiza into Cyanoloxia (since the type of Amaurospiza [concolor] and of Cyanoloxia [glaucocaerulea] were sampled). I wouldn't support the merger of Amaurospiza into Cyanoloxia given their consistent differences in plumage and ecology. While the voices of Amaurospiza resemble those of some 'Cyanocompsa', there are several differences among different species in the whole group (e.g., cyanoides vs. brissonii vs. glaucocaerulea) that suggest that voices do not especially support the merging of Amaurospiza into Cyanoloxia. Finally, the genus Cyanoloxia was described in page 502 of Bonaparte's Conspectum and not 503 as stated in Klicka et al. 2007.”


Comments from Stiles:  YES to lumping Cyanocompsa and Amaurospiza into Cyanoloxia despite the currently unresolved position of C. parellina.  Should solid genetic evidence be obtained that clarifies the position of this taxon, placing it on the Passerina side, I’d go for lumping the whole mess in Passerina; were it to remain on the Cyanocompsa-Cyanoloxia side I’d continue to recognize Cyanoloxia.


Comments from Santiago Claramunt: “Nacho has raised an interesting issue: the position of the type species of Cyanocompsa is not strongly supported. This, plus the missing of other Amaurospiza, may call for waiting for further data. However, if all the species are merged into Cyanoloxia, the classification will remain pretty stable regardless of the final position of C. parellina. At the time the position of C. parellina is determined with certainty, the species can be maintained in Cyanoloxia, transferred to Passerina, or kept in a monotypic Cyanocompsa. On the other hand, for those in favor of maintaining Amaurospiza, an alternative to this proposal may work as well in terms of stability: transfer only C. cyanoides and C. brissonii to Cyanoloxia, and maintain Amaurospiza and C. parellina in their current genera. I don't have a strong opinion on this."


Comments from Nores:  “YES.  Pienso que el análisis molecular de Klicka et al. (2007) muestra claramente que los tres géneros están muy relacionados y deben ponerse juntos en Cyanoloxia. Además los tres géneros son muy similares morfológicamente entre si. Aunque la posición de Cyanocompsa parellina queda sin resolver, no parece ser un problema importante. En caso de que Cyanocompsa parellina sea diferente de las otras especies debería mantenerse en Cyanocompsa, mientras que las restantes especies quedarían en Cyanoloxia.  Otra posibilidad sería poner todas estas especies, junto a Spiza y Passerina, en el género Passerina (Vieillot 1816), ya que son todas muy parecidas, pero parece mejor así. Por otra parte, pienso que en las respuestas, deberían evitarse los comentarios intrascendentes como el hecho por Areta, que la descripción de Cyanoloxia está en la página 502 del libro de Bonaparte y no en la 503 como fue indicado por Klicka et al.(2007).”


Comments from Remsen:  “NO.  Areta’s point about the undetermined position of extralimital parellina carries the day for me – there is a slim chance that it might group with Passerina, which I would favor as keeping separate for subjective reasons.”


Comments from Pacheco:  “NO.  Apreciei os comentários de Nacho e Santiago a partir dos resultados de Klicka et al. Considero diante do nível do conhecimento presente – e até que novos dados estejam disponíveisque seja mais apropriado subordinar C. brissonii e C. cyanoides a Cyanoloxia, considerar Cyanocompsa como monotípico e manter Amaurospiza com o atual arranjo.”


Comments from Pérez:  NO. The positions of both parellina and cyanoides are weakly supported (as stated in Klicka et al [2007]) to propose changes at the moment.  I would rather wait for more data to consider any recommendation.  I also think that Amaurospiza should be retained for their particular ecology, behavior and morphology, although this will be a matter of opinion (how much morphological, ecological and behavioral differences could be considered within a genus? How do we weight this information against the need to name monophyletic groups? Depending on final position of some of these taxa, are we open to consider monotypic genera? Similar situations are found in some of the Caprimulgidae proposals written by Mark). In terms of this group, as a matter of additional information, unpublished data by Klicka et al. indicate that Amaurospiza is monophyletic.”


Comments from Cadena:  NO. The lack of support for the phylogenetic position of some of the relevant species (parellina and cyanoides) and the fact that parellina is the type species of Cyanocompsa as pointed out by Nacho indicate we should wait for more data.”