Proposal (817) to South American Classification Committee



Treat Epinecrophylla fjeldsaai and E. pyrrhonota as subspecies of E. haematonota


Effect on SACC: The status of two taxa, E. fjeldsaai and E. pyrrhonota, would be reduced to subspecies of E. haematonota.


Background: Taxa in the Epinecrophylla haematonota complex are widespread in western Amazonia, occurring both north and south of the Amazon. Until recently, they were placed in a single species, Myrmotherula haematonota, which, besides the nominate form, included M. h. pyrrhonota, M. h. spodionota, M. h. sororia, and M. h. amazonica (Peters1951). Thereafter, M. spodionota, including sororia, was treated as a distinct species by multiple authors (e.g., Parker and Remsen 1987). In 1999, on the basis of distinctions in coloration and apparent parapatry with existing taxa, Myrmotherula fjeldsaai was added to the complex at the species level  (Krabbe et al. 1999) despite unavailability of a sufficient number of recordings of M. fjeldsaai to permit comparative vocal analysis. In 2006, the complex was assigned to a new genus, Epinecrophylla, along with related dead-leaf foragers (Isler et al 2006). In 2013, plumage differences combined with vocal differentiation and genetic diversity led to the recommendation that five species be recognized in the complex: E. haematonota, E. pyrrhonota, E. amazonica, E. spodionota, and the newly described E. dentei (Whitney et al. 2013). The DNA-based phylogenetic analysis also led to the recommendation that fjeldsaai be considered a subspecies of E. haematonota. Upon receipt of a proposal following these recommendations and amendments thereof (SACC 589A, 589B, 590) the Committee came to the conclusion that E. haematonota, E. pyrrhonota, E. amazonica, and E. spodionota should be considered specifically distinct, that dentei should be considered a subspecies of E. amazonica, and that E. fjeldsaai should be maintained as a species until a more complete vocal analysis was undertaken.


Newly published information: Vocal recordings currently available for E. pyrrhonota (n = 58, E. fjeldsaai (n =42), and E. haematonota (n = 62) were analyzed by Isler and Whitney (2018) to evaluate taxonomic positions. The inventory included recordings from or near the type locality of all three taxa. Previously published morphological and phylogenetic data were reviewed. More recent specimen data included likely introgressed examples of E. fjeldsaai with its neighbors. The vocal analysis revealed that vocalizations of the three taxa were essentially identical. Plumage differences among them are minimal, but appear to be diagnostic among females.


Recommendation: Given the absence of vocal distinctions, we recommend a "YES" vote on removing pyrrhonota and fjeldsaai from the SACC list of thamnophilid species, maintaining them as subspecies of Epinecrophylla haematonota based on plumage distinctions.


Literature cited:


Isler, M. L., D. R. Lacerda, P. R. Isler, S. J. Hackett, K. V. Rosenberg, and R. T. Brumfield. 2006. Epinecrophylla, a new genus of antwrens (Aves: Passeriformes: Thamnophilidae). Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 119:522–527.

Isler, M. L., and B. M. Whitney. 2018. Reevaluation of the taxonomic positions of members of the Epinecrophylla haematonota (Aves: Passeriformes: Thamnophilidae) antwren complex including E. fjeldsaai based on vocalizations. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 130(4):908–914. Note that the online version of this paper corrects an error made in the editorial process.

Krabbe, N., M. L. Isler, P. R. Isler, B. M. Whitney, J. Alvarez A., and P. J. Greenfield. 1999. A new species in the Myrmotherula haematonota superspecies (Aves; Thamnophilidae) from the western Amazonian lowlands of Ecuador and Peru.  Wilson Bulletin 111: 157-165.

Parker, T. A., III, and J. V. Remsen, Jr. 1987. Fifty-two Amazonian bird species new to Bolivia. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club  107:94-107.

Peters, J. L. 1951. Check-list of birds of the world, vol. 7. Museum of Comparative Zoölogy, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 318 pp.

Whitney, B. M., M. L. Isler, G. A. Bravo, N. Aristizábal, F. Schunck, L. F. Silveira, and V. de Q. Piacentini. 2013. A new species of Epinecrophylla antwren from the Aripuanã-Machado interfluvium in central Amazonian Brazil with revision of the “stipple-throated antwren” complex. In: del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A., Sargatal, J., & Christie, D.A. (Eds), Handbook of the Birds of the World. Special Volume: New Species and Global Index. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain, pp. 263–267.


Mort Isler and Bret Whitney, March 2019




Comments from Remsen: “YES.  Comparisons of vocal differences and similarities require this change under the Isler-Whitney formula for species limits in Thamnophilidae, a formula I strongly support.”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES”.  These two taxa always seemed a bit tenuous as distinct species, and now that improved vocal samples and thorough analysis reveal an absence of diagnostic vocal characters, I think that we have to lump both of them under the haematonota umbrella.  Plumage distinctions, primarily between females of the three taxa involved, support continued recognition of both fjeldsaai and pyrrhonota, but at the rank of subspecies of haematonota.”


Comments from Areta: “YES. It is good to finally see a reanalysis of this complex based on more data and shedding light on species-level limits.”


Comments from Claramunt: “YES. Vocalizations are identical and mtDNA is not reciprocally monophyletic.  Specimens with intermediate plumage are mentioned (although not described or discussed in sufficient detail).”


Comments from Stiles: “YES to consider fjeldsaai and pyrrhonota as sspp. of E. haematonota based on vocal and genetic information.”


Comments from Pacheco: “YES. In view of the absence of vocal diagnoses among these taxa, this arrangement is appropriate.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “YES – hard to argue with vocalizations ‘essentially identical’.”