- 1 species in the Neotropics
- DR personal total: 1 species (100%), 0 photos
In tropical lowland forests from Panama to northwest Ecuador lives an American enigma. Its formal name is Sapayoa aenigma;
even this means "enigma" in Latin. It is an inconspicuous, dull-colored
bird of the forest understory where it is rare to uncommon. The bird is
now known as Sapayoa (left; a remarkable shot by Markus Lagerqvist).
used to be called "Broad-billed Manakin" and was compared to an
overgrown female manakin. One would never guess from its plumage that
its closest relatives are the gaudy and colorful broadbills of tropical
Asia and Africa.
Its true relationships and
evolutionary history have only unfolded with the use of molecular
evidence. Lanyon (1985) and Sibley & Ahlquist (1990) were the first
to publish biochemical evidence that Sapayoa was related to Old World
suboscines, and may be the only relict of this ancient lineage
remaining in the New World. Prum (1993) studied the phylogeny and
biogeography of the asities and broadbills and presented evidence that
the asities were just a subgroup of broadbills.
full story was not sorted out until Moyle et al. (2006) provided the
necessary new research to show the relationship among the (mostly) Old
World broadbills. They showed that there were two major clades: (1) a
grouping of the Calyptomenna broadbills of Asia (these are the green broadbills) and the Smithornis
broadbills of Africa (these are the lowland forest broadbills in
Africa), and (2) a grouping of the remaining Asian broadbills (5
genera) plus Grauer's Broadbill Pseudocalyptomena graueri (a
montane species which is an Albertine Rift endemic), plus Asities in
Madagascar and Sapayoa of the New World (right is Guy Tudor's painting
from Ridgely & Tudor 1994).
But what to do with
this new evidence? The Broadbills as a traditional family are only
monophyletic if one considers Asities and Sapayoa to be broadbills.
Both the AOU and the SACC have waffled on their approach to the
conundrum, and have variously placed Sapayoa in "Incertae Sedis" [Latin
for "don't know what the hell it is"], or as a separate family, or
lumped it with all broadbills and asities.
evidence and timing presented by Moyle et al. (2006) suggested that
broadbill ancestors arose perhaps 70 million years ago and for some
time (perhaps for 10 million years) evolved on what is now India when
it was still a huge isolated landmass in the Indian Ocean. When India
first crashed into the Eurasian continent in the Paleocene, broadbills
spread east (to southeast Asia) and west (to Africa) and in that very
warm period, likely north as well. As climate cooled, presumably many
species became extinct. Broadbills split into two main branches about
55 million years ago. One of those branches included the Eurylaimid
Broadbills, the Sapayoa in the New World, and Asities. Sapayoa became
isolated in the New World tropics about 52 million years ago (Moyle et
al. 2006). One can debate the accuracy of the dating estimates, but, in
short, Sapayoa shares a common ancestor with all broadbills and the
asities of Madagascar. One way to look at the evidence is to lump all
of them in one huge broadbill assemblage. Another way of handling the
exact same evidence is to create four families: the Calyptomenid
Broadbills, the Eurylaimid Broadbills, the Asities, and the Sapayoa. To
retain Asities or Sapayoa as a family, one must make all those splits.
the four-way split, and retaining Sapayoa as a family, is consistent
with the way the South American Checklist Committee (and this web site)
handled a similar problem with the barbet/toucan assemblage. They
either had to be one huge family (including toucans), or five separate
families. SACC made the latter choice, and I very much approve. I
handle the broadbill, asity, and Sapayoa problem in the same way, and
retain Sapayoa as a monotypic family of Old World suboscines, isolated
in the Neotropics. Time will tell whether this is the approach that
will be favored.
Sapayoa favors ravines and small
streams, and is usually found singly or in pairs. Ridgely & Tudor
(1994) remark on its unobtrusive behavior which they liken to
flatbills; like them it sits quietly between making short sallies out
for food. Beyond this, rather little is known. My only encounter with
Sapayoa was many years ago in the steaming lowland jungle along
Pipeline Road in what used to be the "Canal Zone" [left; standing on
the dilapidated bridge are Bay Area birders Joe Morlan (white hat) and
Garth Alton (blue shirt)]. I recall watching a Sapayoa when I was alone
inside the forest, chasing a mixed flock of antwrens, and it sat
quietly in the flock in the undergrowth.
Photos: Markus Lagerqvist photographed the Sapayoa Sapayoa aenigma
in Panama in Dec 2008. The painting of Sapayoa is by Guy Tudor from
Ridgely & Tudor (1994). The habitat of Sapayoa in humid lowland
forest along Pipeline Road, former "Canal Zone," Panama, was taken in
January 1981. Sapayoa photo © Markus Lagerqvist, used with permission, art © Guy Tudor; all rights reserved.
Bibliographic note: There is no "family book" on this enigma. The Handbook of Birds of the World
series reached the suboscines in 2004, and treated Sapayoa among the
manakins [Pipridae] but acknowledged that its relationships were
subject to further research.
American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-List of North American Birds. 7th ed. A.O.U., Washington, D. C.
Dickinson, E., ed. 2003. The Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of
the Birds of the World. 3d ed. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.
Johansson, U.S., M. Irestedt, T.J. Parson, and P.G.P. Ericson. 2002.
Basal phylogeny of the Tyrannoidea based on comparisons of cytochrome b
and exons of nuclear C-MYS and RAG-1 genes. Auk 119:984-995.
Lanyon, S.M. 1985. Molecular perspective on higher-level relationships in the Tyrannidae (Aves). Syst. Zool. 34: 404-418.
R.G., R.T. Chesser, R.O. Prum, P. Schikler, and J. Cracraft. 2006.
Phylogeny and evolutionary history of Old World suboscine birds (Aves:
Eurylaimides). Amer. Mus. Novitates 3544: 1-22
Prum, R.O., and W.E. Lanyon. 1989. Monophyly and phylogeny of the Schiffornis group (Tyrannoidea). Condor 91: 444-461.
Ridgely, R.S., and G. Tudor. 1994. The Birds of South America. Vol. 2: The Suboscine Passerines. Univ of Texas, Austin.
C.G., and J.E. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds: a
Study of Molecular Evolution. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT.