Unravelling francolin taxonomy

5 Nov 2019 - 11:30
Photo credit Callan Cohen.


Tshifhiwa Mandiwana-Neudani, Rob Little, Tim Crowe and Rauri Bowie recently published a paper in the African journal of ornithology Ostrich titled ‘Taxonomy, phylogeny and biogeography of ‘true’ francolins: Galliformes, Phasianidae, Phasianinae, Gallini; Francolinus, Ortygornis, Afrocolinus gen. nov., Peliperdix and Scleroptila spp.’ They recommend the recognition of the five genera, replacing Afrocolinus with Campcolinus, and propose that they should be referred to commonly as “francolins”. Their proposed new system recognizes 31 species, up from 17 species, elevating 14 subspecies to species level (Ortygornis grantii, O. rovuma, Peliperdix dewittei, Campcolinus hubbardi, C. thikae, C. stuhlmanni, C. maharao, C. spinetorum, Scleroptila crawshayi, S. elgonensis, S. gutturalis, S. jugularis, S. uluensis, S. whytei) and lumping other subspecies into more inclusive entities, recognising 14 subspecies in contrast to 52 previous subspecies.

The Crested Francolin is designated a new genus, Ortygornis, and split into three species. The Crested Francolin O. sephaena is now confined to the band across southern Angola, northern Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and north-eastern South Africa. The new Kirk’s Francolin O. rovuma which is a new species for southern Africa has a subspecies O. r. rovuma in Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, and another subspecies O. r. spilogaster in eastern Ethiopia, Somalia and north-eastern Kenya. The third species Grant’s Francolin O. grantii is found in southern Sudan, Uganda, western Ethiopia to north-central Tanzania.

The Orange River Francolin also offers a new species to southern Africa, the Kunene Francolin Scleroptila jugularis in southern Angola and northern Namibia, while the Orange River Francolin is now confined as two subspecies S. levalliantoides levalliantoides and S. l. pallidior in South Africa and Botswana, respectively. The closely related Archer’s Francolin S. gutturalis in East Africa is supported as a full species.

The new Crawshay’s Francolin S. crawshayii from north of the Zambezi River is elevated from being a subspecies of the Red-winged Francolin S. levaillantii which means that the Red-winged Francolin is now endemic to southern Africa.

The previous Coqui Francolin group has five newly elevated species, namely Pale-bellied Francolin Campocolinus spinetorum, Bar-bellied Francolin C. maharao, Plain-bellied Francolin C. hubbardi, Thika Francolin C. thikae and Stuhlmann’s Francolin C. stuhlmanni. While the Coqui Francolin retains four subspecies C. coqui coqui, ruahdae, vernayi and kasaicus.

Other francolin changes see Chestnut-breasted Francolin Peliperdix dewittei elevated from being a subspecies of White-throated Francolin P. albogularis, Elgon Francolin Scleroptila elgonensis elevated from Moorland Francolin S. psilolaema, and both Ulu Francolin S. uluensis and Rufous-throated Francolin S. whytei elevated from Shelley’s Francolin S. shelleyi.

The photograph above of Elgon Francolins on Mount Kenya, taken by Callan Cohen, will appear on the front cover of this issue of Ostrich. Link to the article