Phylogeography of the Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata; Atelidae, Primates) across Its Geographical Range by Means of Mitochondrial Genetic Analyses and New Insights about the Phylogeny of Alouatta

Manuel Ruiz-García, Ángela Cerón, Sebastián Sánchez-Castillo, Pilar Rueda-Zozaya, Myreya Pinedo-Castro, Gustavo Gutierrez-Espeleta, Joseph Mark Shostell

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    We analyzed 156 specimens of diverse howler monkey taxa (Alouatta; Atelidae, Primates) for different mitochondrial genes (5,567 base pairs), with special emphasis on A. palliata and related taxa. Our results showed no relevant differences among individuals of different putative taxa, A. p. palliata, A. p. aequatorialis, A. coibensis coibensis, and A. c. trabeata. We found no spatial differences in genetic structure of A. p. palliata throughout Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. A. p. mexicana (genetic distance: 1.6-2.1%) was the most differentiated taxon within A. palliata. Therefore, we postulate the existence of only 2 clearly defined subspecies within A. palliata (A. p. palliata and A. p. mexicana). A. palliata and A. pigra (traditionally considered a subspecies of A. palliata) are 2 clearly differentiated species as was demonstrated by Cortés-Ortiz and colleagues in 2003, with a temporal split between the 2 species around 3.6-3.7 million years ago (MYA). Our results with the Median Joining Network procedure showed that the ancestors of the cis-Andean Alouatta gave rise to the ancestors of the trans-Andean Alouatta around 6.0-6.9 MYA. As Cortés-Ortiz et al. showed, A. sara and A. macconnelli are differentiable species from A. seniculus, although the first 2 taxa were traditionally considered subspecies of A. seniculus. Our findings agree with the possibility that the ancestor of A. sara gave rise to the ancestor of A. pigra in northern South America. In turn, the ancestor of A. pigra originated the ancestor of A. palliata. Two of our results strongly support the hypothesis that the South American A. palliata (the putative A. p. aequatorialis) was the original population of this species; it has high genetic diversity and no evidence of population expansion. The Central America A. palliata is the derived population. It has low genetic diversity and there is clear evidence of population expansion. However, A. palliata and A. pigra probably migrated into Central America by 2 different routes: the Isthmus of Panama (A. palliata) and Caribbean island arch (A. pigra). Finally, the red howler monkeys from the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean Sea were not A. macconnelli (= A. s. stramineus) as Groves maintained in his influential 2001 publication on primate taxonomy. This taxon is more related to A. s. seniculus, although it formed a monophyletic clade. Future molecular and karyotypic studies will show if the Trinidad red howler monkeys should be considered as an extension of the Venezuelan taxon, A. arctoidea, as a subspecies of A. seniculus(A. s. seniculus), or, in the case of extensive chromosomal rearrangements, even a new species.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)421-454
    Number of pages34
    JournalFolia Primatologica
    Issue number5
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


    • Alouatta
    • Alouatta palliata
    • Genetic diversity
    • Mitochondrial gene sequences
    • Phylogenetics
    • Phylogeography

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