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Zool­o­gists shed new light on ori­gins of titi monkey

pub­lished 10 April 2016 | mod­i­fied 10 April 2016

red titi monkey london zooSci­en­tists in Sal­ford have shed new light on the evo­lu­tion of one of the world’s most diverse pri­mate groups — the titi monkey.

Dr Jean Bou­bli and PhD stu­dent Hazel Byrne, work­ing with zool­o­gists from Brazil and the US, used cutting-​edge mol­e­c­u­lar and com­puter mod­el­ling tech­niques to inves­ti­gate the genus Cal­lice­bus, first described by Old­field Thomas in 1903.

Pub­lished on 1 March in the jour­nal Fron­tiers in Zool­ogy, the research iden­ti­fies much greater diver­sity in the titi which they pro­pose to rede­fine as three dis­tinct gen­era — Cal­lice­bus (Titi), Cher­ace­bus and Plec­tur­o­ce­bus. They have also reclas­si­fied the species Cal­lice­bus dubius as Cal­lice­bus cali­ga­tus, reduc­ing the num­ber of recog­nised species from 34 to 33.

By divid­ing the titi mon­keys into three new gen­era we are bet­ter describ­ing bio­di­ver­sity by acknowl­edg­ing the evo­lu­tion­ary unique­ness of these old lineages
Dr Jean Bou­bli, co-​author, reader in ani­mal ecol­ogy, Uni­ver­sity of Sal­ford, UK »

Jean Bou­bli described the find­ings as the “cul­mi­na­tion of his 20 year quest for the ori­gins of titi mon­key diversity”.

Decades of sam­ples
Jean Bou­bli, who spent three years with the Yanomami peo­ples in the north­ern Ama­zon, and Hazel who also spent months in the jun­gle, built the largest array of titi mon­key DNA sequences ever assem­bled, afford­ing a fresh per­spec­tive on the key evo­lu­tion­ary events and when they occurred over time.

They pin­point the split between Plec­tur­o­ce­bus and Cal­lice­bus at approx­i­mately 11 mil­lion years ago and the split of Cal­lice­bus and Cher­ace­bus to 8 mil­lion years.

His­tor­i­cally tax­on­omy (the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of ani­mals) has been largely based on mor­phol­ogy — colour, shape, size, fea­tures — rather than genetic diver­sity. How­ever, things can be very closely related and look quite dif­fer­ent, or be genet­i­cally dis­tinct and look the same,” explained Hazel Byrne.

Titi mon­keys

Genus Cher­ace­bus
Genus Cal­lice­bus
Genus Plec­tur­o­ce­bus
Titi monkeys genus cheracebusTiti monkeys genus callicebusTiti monkeys genus plecturocebus donacophilusTiti monkeys genus plecturocebus moloch

Illus­tra­tion by Stephen D. Nash ©Con­ser­va­tion Inter­na­tional.
Byrne et al., 2016. Phy­lo­ge­netic rela­tion­ships of the New World titi mon­keys (Cal­lice­bus): first appraisal of tax­on­omy based on mol­e­c­u­lar evi­dence. Fron­tiers in Zool­ogy13:10. DOI: 10.1186/s12983-0160142-4;
Cre­ative Com­mons Attri­bu­tion 4.0 Inter­na­tional License

So does it mat­ter?
Absolutely”, says Jean Bou­bli who describes tax­on­omy as “the road map of con­ser­va­tion” and ulti­mately, our under­stand­ing of how the evo­lu­tion­ary tree of pri­mates fits together, guides deci­sions about which groups are endan­gered and which need pro­tec­tion. “Each of the three gen­era can now be recog­nised as unique, impor­tant lin­eages, giv­ing gov­ern­ments and NGOs a clearer focus for con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes. “It makes sense that before you say ‘we’re going to ded­i­cate our resources to this, you need to know what ‘this’ is.”

The team are fol­low­ing up the research with a forth­com­ing bio­geo­graph­i­cal analy­sis, inves­ti­gat­ing how these gen­era diver­si­fied over time and space, which could shed light on how the Ama­zon was formed.

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Sal­ford — Man­ches­ter news release, 06.04.2016)

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