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Open Access Research article

A mitogenomic perspective on the ancient, rapid radiation in the Galliformes with an emphasis on the Phasianidae

Yong-Yi Shen123, Lu Liang123, Yan-Bo Sun123, Bi-Song Yue4, Xiao-Jun Yang1, Robert W Murphy15 and Ya-Ping Zhang12*

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650223, China

2 Laboratory for Conservation and Utilization of Bio-resources, Yunnan University, Kunming 650091, China

3 Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100000, China

4 Sichuan Key Laboratory of Conservation Biology on Endangered Wildlife, College of Life Science, Sichuan University, Chengdu, Sichuan 610064, China

5 Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C6, Canada

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:132  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-132

Published: 6 May 2010



The Galliformes is a well-known and widely distributed Order in Aves. The phylogenetic relationships of galliform birds, especially the turkeys, grouse, chickens, quails, and pheasants, have been studied intensively, likely because of their close association with humans. Despite extensive studies, convergent morphological evolution and rapid radiation have resulted in conflicting hypotheses of phylogenetic relationships. Many internal nodes have remained ambiguous.


We analyzed the complete mitochondrial (mt) genomes from 34 galliform species, including 14 new mt genomes and 20 published mt genomes, and obtained a single, robust tree. Most of the internal branches were relatively short and the terminal branches long suggesting an ancient, rapid radiation. The Megapodiidae formed the sister group to all other galliforms, followed in sequence by the Cracidae, Odontophoridae and Numididae. The remaining clade included the Phasianidae, Tetraonidae and Meleagrididae. The genus Arborophila was the sister group of the remaining taxa followed by Polyplectron. This was followed by two major clades: ((((Gallus, Bambusicola) Francolinus) (Coturnix, Alectoris)) Pavo) and (((((((Chrysolophus, Phasianus) Lophura) Syrmaticus) Perdix) Pucrasia) (Meleagris, Bonasa)) ((Lophophorus, Tetraophasis) Tragopan))).


The traditional hypothesis of monophyletic lineages of pheasants, partridges, peafowls and tragopans was not supported in this study. Mitogenomic analyses recovered robust phylogenetic relationships and suggested that the Galliformes formed a model group for the study of morphological and behavioral evolution.