Barcoding South American Birds


DNA barcoding, a genetic‐based species identification system, has proven to be highly effective. The project to barcode all the birds of the world was one of the first campaigns to be launched and over 30% of the species have been already barcoded. The Neotropics are the most biodiverse region of the planet, including almost 4000 species of birds, and barcoding its avifauna is therefore vital for the project. Most of the progress within this region has been made in South America, including the first large‐scale barcode study of Neotropical vertebrates, which is being carried out in Argentina. This study has shown that barcoding is highly efficient in the southern Neotropics, allowing the recognition of more than 98% of bird species. Large‐scale barcoding surveys also allow flagging interesting species or groups of species worthy of deeper analysis, studying avian diversification and analysing continental patterns of evolution, biogeography and speciation.

Key Concepts:

  • DNA barcoding is a system for species identification that is based on the use of a short, standardised DNA fragment (COI in the case of animals).

  • The All Birds Barcoding Inititative (ABBI) is the campaign that aims to barcode all the birds of the world, and approximately 30% of the species have been already barcoded.

  • The Neotropical region is the most biodiverse of the Planet, including almost 4000 bird species, and barcoding its avifauna is therefore vital for the advancement of the ABBI.

  • Most of the progress in the Neotropics has been made in South America, where a large‐scale project to barcode the Birds of Argentina is being performed.

  • Barcoding has proven to be highly efficient for species recognition in the southern Neotropics, where more than 98% of bird species can be identified using COI.

  • Barcoding the Argentine avifauna also flagged many interesting species or groups of species worthy of further analysis, including approximately 5% of species in which at least two deeply diverging lineages were found.

  • The study of avian diversification patterns in the region using COI showed cases of allopatric, paraptric and sympatric divergences.

  • The comparison of the COI datasets between the southern Neotropics and the Nearctic suggests that species are slightly older in the former and supports the notion that phylogenetic structuring is more complex in the Neotropics.

Keywords: barcoding; birds; evolutionary patterns; neotropics; South America

Figure 1.

Distribution map showing the points of collection of the specimens of the project that aims to barcode all the birds of Argentina. =1–5 specimens, =6–50 specimens, =more than 50 specimens. This map was downloaded from the website of the Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) and was included in this article with permission. These maps available on BOLD are part of the NASA blue marble project.

Figure 2.

Maps detailing the distributional patterns of divergent barcode lineages and pictures of species chosen as examples of each pattern. Species ranges are highlighted in green and circles indicate collection sites. Black and white circles correspond to different lineages represented on superimposed neighbour joining trees and grey circles represent sites in which both lineages were present. A=Barcode lineages are allopatric (e.g. Cinclodes fuscus); B=Barcode lineages are parapatric (e.g. Vireo olivaceus) and C=Barcode lineages are sympatric (e.g. Manacus manacus). Pictures were taken by Roberto Güller.



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Web Links

The All Birds Barcoding Initiative (ABBI) website ( It includes information and reports on the advancement of the ABBI, maps, etc.

Barcode of Life Datasystems ( This is the workbench for DNA barcoding and it includes: (a) the engine to identify a specimen based on its COI sequence, (b) a taxonomy browser that allows checking in detail the barcode records for different taxonomic levels and (c) access to public projects with the information about specimens, sequences, the possibility to generate maps, etc.

The website of the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding (CCDB; It includes a lot of information about DNA barcoding, such as: (a) a list with all the scientific publications related to the project and (b) the laboratory protocols for extraction, PCR (including a list of primers) and sequencing.

DNA Barcode Blog ( This is a scientific blog about short DNA sequences for species identification and discovery.

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How to Cite close
Lijtmaer, Darío A, and Tubaro, Pablo L(Nov 2010) Barcoding South American Birds. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0022856]