Proposal (688) to South American Classification Committee


Rearrange linear sequence of species in Celeus (Picidae)



Effect on SACC: Would rearrange linear order of Celeus woodpeckers.


New Information:


Benz and Robbins (2011) presented the first molecular-based phylogeny (5-gene mtDNA sequence data) of the woodpecker genus Celeus. As has come to be expected, molecular data resulted in a novel set of hypotheses that are at odds with prior works that were primarily based on plumage and structure. For example, Short (1972) included C. castaneus, C. elegans, C. lugubris, and C. flavescens in the “C. elegans” superspecies complex. However, molecular data indicate that castaneus is in grammicus/undatus clade.


Moreover, traditional linear arrangements have treated C. loricatus as the basal taxon within the genus due to shared similarities with the purported Old World congener Micropternus [Celeus] brachyurus (multiple molecular sets clearly demonstrate that brachyurus is not a Celeus relative), whereas C. torquatus occupied the opposite end of this arrangement, loosely associated with C. spectabilis (Peters 1948; Short 1982, Winkler and Christie 2002).  In contrast, the Benz and Robbins (2011) molecular data recovered a well-supported loricatustorquatus lineage that is sister to the rest of Celeus:




In sum, molecular data resulted in the following linear sequence hypothesis using standard conventions.


Cinnamon Woodpecker (Celeus loricatus)

Ringed Woodpecker (Celeus torquatus)


[Chestnut-colored Woodpecker (Celeus castaneus) extralimital[]

Scale-breasted Woodpecker (Celeus grammicus)

Waved Woodpecker (Celeus undatus)


Cream-colored Woodpecker (Celeus flavus

Rufous-headed Woodpecker (Celeus spectabilis)

Kaempfer’s Woodpecker (Celeus obrieni)


 (treated as superspecies NW to SE):

Chestnut Woodpecker (Celeus elegans)

Pale-crested Woodpecker (Celeus lugubris)

Blond-crested Woodpecker (Celeus flavescens)



Recommendation: Because plumage and structural characters have repeatedly shown to be unreliable characters in discerning avian relationships, the molecular based hypotheses are very likely a more accurate assessment of relationships. Thus, I recommend that the above linear sequence be adopted.


Literature Cited:


Benz, B.W. and M.B. Robbins. 2011. Molecular phylogenetics, vocalizations, and species limits in Celeus Woodpeckers (Aves: Picidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 61:29–44.

Peters 1948. Check-list of birds of the world. Vol. 6. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Short, L. L., 1972.  Relationships among the four species of the superspecies Celeus elegans (Aves, Picidae). Amer. Mus. Novitates No. 2487: 1-26.

Short, L. L., 1982. Woodpeckers of the World. Delaware Museum of Natural History, Greenville, Delaware.

Winkler, H., and D. A. Christie, 2002. Family Picidae (woodpeckers). In: J. del Hoyo, A. Elliot, and J. Sargatal, (Eds.), Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 7, Jacamars to Woodpeckers. Lynx Editions, Barcelona, pp.


Mark Robbins, November 2015

(with some meddling in the sequence by Van Remsen, who takes responsibility for any mistakes therein)





Comments by Areta: “YES. This sequence is also consistent with results by the similar paper of Lammertink et al. (2015).”


Lammertink, M.; Kopuchian, C.; Brandl, H.B.; Tubaro, P.L.; Winkler, H. (2015). "A striking case of deceptive woodpecker colouration: the threatened Helmeted Woodpecker Dryocopus galeatus belongs in the genus Celeus". Journal of Ornithology. doi:10.1007/s10336-015-1254-x


Comments from Stiles: “YES – another case where coloration and minor structural differences may be misleading – the amazilian hummingbirds provide a particularly striking example of same.”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES.  This molecular-based linear sequence also squares much better with what would be expected based upon vocal characters (particularly as regards the position of castaneus within the grammicus/undatus clade).”


Comments from Pacheco: “YES. The phylogeny Benz & Robbins reflects the best knowledge of the relationships within this genus.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “YES.  Well resolved, and I am glad it fits with other data such as voice. As noted in comments.”