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The hornbills comprise a group of morphologically and behaviorally distinct Palaeotropical bird species that feature prominently in studies of ecology and conservation biology. Although the monophyly of hornbills is well established, previous phylogenetic hypotheses were based solely on mtDNA and limited sampling of species diversity. We used parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods to reconstruct relationships among all 61 extant hornbill species, based on nuclear and mtDNA gene sequences extracted largely from historical samples. The resulting phylogenetic trees closely match vocal variation across the family but conflict with current taxonomic treatments. In particular, they highlight a new arrangement for the six major clades of hornbills and reveal that three groups traditionally treated as genera (Tockus, Aceros, Penelopides) are non-monophyletic. In addition, two other genera (Anthracoceros, Ocyceros) were non-monophyletic in the mtDNA gene tree. Our findings resolve some longstanding problems in hornbill systematics, including the placement of 'Penelopides exharatus' (embedded in Aceros) and 'Tockus hartlaubi' (sister to Tropicranus albocristatus). We also confirm that an Asiatic lineage (Berenicornis) is sister to a trio of Afrotropical genera (Tropicranus [including 'Tockus hartlaubi'], Ceratogymna, Bycanistes). We present a summary phylogeny as a robust basis for further studies of hornbill ecology, evolution and historical biogeography.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Phylogenet Evol

Publication Date





468 - 483


Animals, Bayes Theorem, Birds, Evolution, Molecular, Mitochondrial Proteins, Nuclear Proteins, Phylogeny, Sequence Analysis, DNA