Beyond a morphological paradox: Complicated phylogenetic relationships of the parrotbills (Paradoxornithidae, Aves)

Carol K.L. Yeung, Rong Chien Lin, Fumin Lei, Craig Robson, Le Manh Hung, Wei Liang, Fasheng Zhou, Lingxian Han, Shou Hsien Li*, Xiaojun Yang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


The parrotbills (Paradoxornithidae, meaning " birds of paradox," Aves) are a group of Old World passerines with perplexing taxonomic histories due to substantial morphological and ecological variation at various levels. In this study, phylogenetic relationships of the parrotbills were reconstructed based on sequences of two mitochondrial segments and three nuclear coding regions. Three major clades with characteristic body size and plumage coloration were found in both mtDNA and nuclear gene trees. However, mtDNA phylogeny suggested that the Paradoxornithidae is paraphyletic and relationships among three major parrotbill clades were poorly resolved. On the contrary, apparent and well-supported monophyletic relationships among the three major clades of Paradoxornithidae were revealed by concatenated nuclear dataset. Since paraphyly based on mtDNA data has commonly been found within avian taxa, the conflicting phylogenetic signal between mtDNA and nuclear loci revealed in this study indicates that results obtained from mtDNA dataset alone need to be evaluated with caution. Taxonomic implications of our phylogenetic findings are discussed. These phylogenies also point out areas for future investigation regarding the rapid diversification, morphological evolution and environmental adaptation of various parrotbill species or species complexes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-202
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Oct


  • MtDNA
  • Nuclear markers
  • Paradoxornithidae
  • Parrotbill

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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