Comprehensive molecular phylogeny of the grassbirds and allies (Locustellidae) reveals extensive non-monophyly of traditional genera, and a proposal for a new classification

The widespread Old World avian family Locustellidae ('grassbirds and allies') comprises 62 extant species in 11 genera. In the present study, we used one mitochondrial and, for most species, four nuclear loci to infer the phylogeny of this family. We analysed 59 species, including the five previously unsampled genera plus two genera that had not before been analysed in a densely sampled dataset. This study revealed extensive disagreement with current taxonomy; the genera Bradypterus, Locustella, Megalurus, Megalurulus and Schoenicola were all found to be non-monophyletic. Non-monophyly was particularly pronounced for Megalurus, which was widely scattered across the tree. Three of the five monotypic genera (Amphilais, Buettikoferella and Malia) were nested within other genera; one monotypic genus (Chaetornis) formed a Glade with one of the two species of Schoenicola; whereas the position of the fifth monotypic genus (Elaphrornis) was unresolved. Robsonius was confirmed as sister to the other genera. We propose a phylogenetically informed revision of genus-level taxonomy, including one new generic name. Finally, we highlight several non-monophyletic species complexes and deep intra-species divergences that point to conflict in taxonomy and suggest an underestimation of current species diversity in this group.