Relationships: Pheasants Phasianidae

Blue-eared Pheasant. Photo by Stavenn (commons.wikimedia.org)
Blue-eared Pheasant. Photo by Stavenn (commons.wikimedia.org)

China is well known to birders for its diverse and often colourful pheasants Phasianidae. Fifty-six species are found there and, of the country’s 21 genera, four – Tetraophasis, Ithaginis, Crossoptilon and Chrysolophus – are endemic.

The taxonomic status of some of these is controversial, and an attempt at clarification has been made by Huang et al (2009). They studied 15 genera and found that these divided into two deeply divergent clades, one containing only Perdix and the other the remaining 14 genera.

Grey Perdix perdix and Daurian P dauurica Partridges were found to be a non-partridge genus which may be ancestral to partridges or pheasants, but whose taxonomy remains essentially unresolved.

A close relationship was found between junglefowl Gallus and the partridge genera Bambusicola (bamboo-partridges), Coturnix (quails) and Alectoris (rock partridges).

The genetic distance between Blue-eared Crossoptilon auritum and Brown-eared C mantchuricum Pheasants was surprisingly low, supporting a previous finding that aspects of the genetics of the two taxa were identical. The endemic Chinese pheasants are likely to have evolved in response to the geographical and climatic consequences of sudden Himalayan uplift less than eight million years ago.