Evolution and systematics

The issue has not been settled as to whether the suboscine Phytotomidae represent a distinct family or a genus within the family Cotingidae. Lanyon and Lanyon consider the Phytotomidae a genus (Phytotoma) within the family Cotingidae. Prum and colleagues provisionally place the plantcutters as a subfamily (Phytotominae) within family Cotingidae. Sibley and Monroe list the plantcutters as genus Phytotoma in their subfamily Cotinginae within the family Tyrannidae. Most ornithologists recognize a distinct family Cotingidae.

In any case, the plantcutters are most closely related to the tyrants and becards (family Tyrannidae), cotingas (Cotingidae), sharpbills (Oxyruncidae), and manakins (Pipridae). All are New World suboscine families.

There are three species of plantcutter: the Peruvian plant-cutter (Phytotoma raimondii), the red-breasted (or white-tailed) plantcutter (Phytotoma rutila), and the rufous-tailed plantcutter (Phytotoma rara).

There is no reliable fossil evidence of Phytotomidae ancestry.

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