Does behavior reflect phylogeny in swiftlets (Aves: Apodidae)? A test using cytochrome b mitochondrial DNA sequences.
Swiftlets are small insectivorous birds, many of which nest in caves and are known to echolocate. Due to a lack of distinguishing morphological characters, the taxonomy of swiftlets is primarily based on the presence or absence of echolocating ability, together with nest characters. To test the reliability of these behavioral characters, we constructed an independent phylogeny using cytochrome b mitochondrial DNA sequences from swiftlets and their relatives. This phylogeny is broadly consistent with the higher classification of swifts but does not support the monophyly of swiftlets. Echolocating swiftlets (Aerodramus) and the nonecholocating "giant swiftlet" (Hydrochous gigas) group together, but the remaining nonecholocating swiftlets belonging to Collocalia are not sister taxa to these swiftlets. While echolocation may be a synapomorphy of Aerodramus (perhaps secondarily lost in Hydrochous), no character of Aerodramus nests showed a statistically significant fit to the molecular phylogeny, indicating that nest characters are not phylogenetically reliable in this group.