Molecular systematics of red colobus monkeys (Procolobus [Piliocolobus]): Understanding the evolution of an endangered primate

by Ting, Nelson, Ph.D., CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, 2008, 161 pages; 3310752


The phylogeny and classification of the red colobus monkeys (genus Procolobus; subgenus Piliocolobus) remains one of the longest standing unresolved issues in African primate taxonomy. Despite widespread agreement that variation within this group exceeds what is typically seen in a single species, complex patterns of variation and an allopatric distribution have made the recognition of more than one red colobus species difficult. I used a mitochondrial marker to elucidate the phylogenetic relationships and timing of divergence events among the extant colobus monkeys, focusing on the red colobus group. The results were used to provide insight into the evolutionary history of the African colobines, the biogeographic history of the African rainforest, the classification of red colobus species, and the designation of conservation priorities for the red colobus monkeys. Mitochondrial divergence dates for the three major extant colobus monkey groups (black-and-white, olive, red) extended into the Miocene, with several black-and-white and red colobus mitochondrial lineages diverging by the Pliocene. Relationships among the colobus monkeys were generally congruent with previous hypotheses with the exception of several West and Central African forms. Specifically, among the red colobus monkeys neither the preussi nor waldroni forms were found to have particularly close affinities with the badius and temminckii forms, and the epieni form was more closely related to taxa found in East and Central Africa than its nearest neighbors. Furthermore, certain red colobus taxa in Central Africa were found to be mitochondrially polyphyletic, and lumping Grubb et al.'s (2003) Central Assemblage together created a mitochondrially paraphyletic group. However, at least some of these complex patterns in Central Africa are not inferred to be tracing true population history and are likely due to the complex history of the Congo Basin. Biogeographic hypotheses supported by the red colobus phylogeny include a close relationship between the tropical forests of Central and East Africa with past northern and southern connections. Also, it seems that certain large rivers within the Congo Basin were not always barriers to gene flow for some rainforest dwelling animals. Among the 18 commonly recognized red colobus monkey subspecies, I recognized five species ( P. badius, P. epieni, P. pennantii, P. rufomitratus, P. kirkii) that had molecular lineages as divergent as those seen between well agreed upon black-and-white colobus species. Application of this classification to red colobus monkey conservation planning gives the highest conservation priority to several distinct species in western Africa that are threatened primarily by human hunting and extremely limited distributions. Extinction of these species would result in a major loss of colobus monkey evolutionary history.

AdviserEric Delson
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsMolecular biology; Physical anthropology; Genetics
Publication Number3310752

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