AboutZoos, Since 2008


World’s small­est mon­key, pygmy mar­moset, is more than one species

pub­lished 04 March 2018 | mod­i­fied 04 March 2018

Evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gists have now dis­cov­ered that the pygmy mar­moset — the world’s small­est mon­key — is not one species but two.

Pygmy marmosetPygmy mar­moset (Cebuella pyg­maea) on a branch. Loca­tion: Sacha Lodge, Ecuador.
Image credit: Don Faulkner. Cre­ative Com­mons Attribution-​Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Weigh­ing just 100 grams — roughly the size of a large tomato — the insect-​eating pri­mate was first described sci­en­tif­i­cally in 1823 by Ger­man nat­u­ral­ist Johann Spix as Cebuella pyg­maea, with a sub-​species sub­se­quently found. Now a team led by the Uni­ver­sity of Sal­ford, using the lat­est tech­niques in genomics and phy­lo­ge­net­ics, have estab­lished proof of two clades or branches of pygmy mar­mosets, that have diverged from one another around 23 mil­lion years ago.

The study, pub­lished in the March issue of the jour­nal Mol­e­c­u­lar Phy­lo­ge­net­ics and Evo­lu­tion, was restricted to mon­keys in the Brazil­ian Ama­zon, but there are indi­ca­tions that researchers may dis­cover more species with fur­ther research in the forests of the other coun­tries where they live.

Impli­ca­tions for con­ser­va­tion efforts
Find­ings like this have seri­ous impli­ca­tions for con­ser­va­tion, since pop­u­la­tion num­bers essen­tially are halved when a species is sud­denly split in two in the light of new sci­en­tific evi­dence. Luck­ily for the pygmy mar­mosets, the forests where they are found are amongst the best pre­served patches of Ama­zon, the sci­en­tists say.

The study, led by Jean Bou­bli, pro­fes­sor of trop­i­cal ecol­ogy and con­ser­va­tion at Sal­ford Uni­ver­sity, is the first ever to use genomics to inves­ti­gate the evo­lu­tion­ary his­tory of a group of New World primates.

The team, which included sci­en­tists from four Brazil­ian research insti­tutes and US-​based Con­ser­va­tion inter­na­tional, found one of the dis­tinct pygmy mar­moset species in Brazil’s Japurá basin, extend­ing west into Colom­bia, north­ern Peru and Ecuador, while the other, is found south of the Ama­zon River, east to the Madeira River in Brazil, and pos­si­bly extend­ing into Peru and Bolivia.

The beauty of genomics means that we can now see the pygmy mar­moset is a term for two species which have been evolv­ing inde­pen­dently for nearly 3 mil­lion years.

Prof Jean Bou­bli, trop­i­cal ecol­ogy and con­ser­va­tion, School of Envi­ron­ment and Life Sci­ences, Uni­ver­sity of Sal­ford, UK; and Insti­tuto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazô­nia, Man­aus, Ama­zonas, Brazil

The team employed genome sequenc­ing (ddRAD­seq) to study the evo­lu­tion­ary his­tory of Cebuella and found two lineages.

Keep orig­i­nal name?
Pro­fes­sor Bou­bli said: “There has long been con­fu­sion over the tax­on­omy of these won­der­ful crea­tures mostly because Spix did not record in his travel diaries the exact loca­tion where he col­lected the type of Cebuella pyg­maea in the early 1800s. That cre­ates con­fu­sion as to which of the two recently uncov­ered species should keep the orig­i­nal name; that of the north or of the south of the Amazon.”

Accord­ing to the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species™, pygmy mar­mosets are species clas­si­fied as Least Con­cern. But recent dis­ease epi­demics have prompted the IUCN Species Sur­vival Commission’s Pri­mate Spe­cial­ist Group to rec­om­mend updat­ing that sta­tus to Vulnerable.

The team is now col­lect­ing more data, includ­ing fae­ces, from dif­fer­ent local­i­ties to clar­ify the tax­on­omy of pygmy mar­mosets and the geo­graphic ranges of the two species already iden­ti­fied — and pos­si­bly even that of new ones.

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Sal­ford Man­ches­ter news release, 01.03.2018)

UN Biodiversity decade
WWF Stop Wildlife Crime
Fight for Flight campaign
End Ivory-funded Terrorism
Support Rewilding Europe
NASA State of Flux

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

about zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and edu­ca­tion, which of course relates to the evo­lu­tion of species.
Fol­low me on: