Weaverbirds are a diverse passerine group with species diversity concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. No comprehensive phylogenetic hypothesis regarding relationships of weaverbirds has been produced, however, so we developed a first extensive phylogeny for the family Ploceidae, based on a multilocus dataset of three mitochondrial loci and four nuclear markers. Analysis of these data offered strong support for monophyly of the family and revealed seven distinct clades within Ploceidae. A major feature of our results is broad polyphyly of Ploceus: Asian Ploceus species should retain the generic name, whereas African Ploceus, together with Anaplectes, should be placed in Malimbus. In light of deep divergence, we assign the Malagasy Ploceus species to their own genus, Nelicurvius. Divergence time analysis based on DNA substitution rates suggests a mid-Miocene origin of the family. This study lays a foundation for an array of future studies of character evolution, biogeography, and evolutionary history of the family.
Keywords: Avian phylogenetics; Nelicurvius; Ploceidae; Systematics; Taxonomy; Weaverbird.
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