Miocene diversification of an open-habitat predatorial passerine radiation, the shrikes (Aves: Passeriformes: Laniidae)

Jérôme Fuchs, Per Alström, Reuven Yosef, Urban Olsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Diversification of avifaunas associated with savannah and steppes appears to correlate with open habitats becoming available, starting in the Miocene. Few comparative analyses exist for families for which all species are predominantly adapted to these habitats. One such group is Laniidae (Passeriformes), which are small- to medium-sized predatory passerines known for their distinctive behaviour of impaling prey. We used multispecies coalescent-based and concatenation methods to provide the first complete species-level phylogeny for this group, as well as an estimate of the timing of diversification. Our analyses indicate that Laniidae as currently delimited is not monophyletic, as the genus Eurocephalus is not closely related to the remaining species. The two species currently assigned to the monotypic genera Urolestes and Corvinella are part of the same clade as the Lanius species, and we propose that they are included in the genus Lanius, making Laniidae monogeneric. The initial diversification of the clade is inferred to have occurred very rapidly, starting about 7.2–9.1 million years ago, timing depending on calibration method, but in either case coinciding with the expansion of C4 grasses. An African origin is inferred in the biogeographic analysis. In the redefined Laniidae, cooperative breeding is inferred to be restricted to a single clade, characterized by gregarious behaviour and rallying. Migratory behaviour evolved multiple times within the family.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)571-588
Number of pages18
JournalZoologica Scripta
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • Lanius
  • biogeography
  • gregarious behaviour
  • migratory behaviour
  • molecular phylogeny
  • radiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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