Phylogenetic relationships of Mesoamerican spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi): Molecular evidence suggests the need for a revised taxonomy.

Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 82: 484-494.


Mesoamerican spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi sensu lato) are widely distributed from Mexico to northern Colombia. This group of primates includes many allopatric forms with morphologically distinct pelage color and patterning, but its taxonomy and phylogenetic history are poorly understood. We explored the genetic relationships among the different forms of Mesoamerican spider monkeys using mtDNA sequence data, and we offer a new hypothesis for the evolutionary history of the group. We collected up to ~800 bp of DNA sequence data from hypervariable region 1 (HV1) of the control region, or D-loop, of the mitochondrion for multiple putative subspecies of Ateles geoffroyi sensu lato. Both maximum likelihood and Bayesian reconstructions, using Ateles paniscus as an outgroup, showed that (1) A. fusciceps and A. geoffroyi form two different monophyletic groups and (2) currently recognized subspecies of A. geoffroyi are not monophyletic. Within A. geoffroyi, our phylogenetic analysis revealed little concordance between any of the classifications proposed for this taxon and their phylogenetic relationships, therefore a new classification is needed for this group. Several possible clades with recent divergence times (1.7–0.8 Ma) were identified within Ateles geoffroyi sensu lato. Some previously recognized taxa were not separated by our data (e.g., A. g. vellerosus and A. g. yucatanensis), while one distinct clade had never been described as a different evolutionary unit based on pelage or geography (Ateles geoffroyi ssp. indet. from El Salvador). Based on well-supported phylogenetic relationships, our results challenge previous taxonomic arrangements for Mesoamerican spider monkeys. We suggest a revised arrangement based on our data and call for a thorough taxonomic revision of this group.


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