Resolution of the phylogenetic position of the Congo peafowl, Afropavo congensis: a biogeographic and evolutionary enigma

Proc Biol Sci. 1997 Oct 22;264(1387):1517-23. doi: 10.1098/rspb.1997.0210.


Afropavo congensis, the Congo peafowl, has long fascinated ornithologists because of its uncertain phylogenetic position and unusual geographic distribution. While some researchers have placed Afropavo as a sister taxon to the true peafowl, Pavo species, others have suggested relationships with the guineafowl or an Old World partridge, Francolinus. These divergent opinions are due, at least in part, to (i) the unique morphological characteristics, lack of elaborate ornamentation, and monogamous mating system in Afropavo which differentiates it from Pavo; and (ii) the restricted distribution of Afropavo in Zaire, which is far removed from the Asian distribution of all other pheasant species. We obtained complete cytochrome b and partial D-loop sequences of Afropavo and compared them to Pavo, guineafowl, Francolinus and other galliform taxa. Our results strongly support a close relationship between Afropavo and Pavo, and we were able to reject alternative phylogenetic hypotheses. Molecular clock estimates of the divergence time place the separation of Afropavo and Pavo in the late Miocene. We also discuss other relatives of Afropavo and Pavo and use this information to propose hypotheses regarding the evolution of ornamentation and sexual dimorphism within this group of pheasants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / classification
  • Birds / genetics*
  • Cytochrome b Group / genetics
  • DNA / analysis
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Alignment


  • Cytochrome b Group
  • DNA