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J Hum Evol. 2008 Aug;55(2):312-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2008.02.011. Epub 2008 Apr 18.

Mitochondrial relationships and divergence dates of the African colobines: evidence of Miocene origins for the living colobus monkeys.

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City University of New York Graduate Center, New York, NY 10016-4309, USA.


The African colobines represent a neglected area of cercopithecid systematics. Resolving the phylogenetic relationships and estimating divergence dates among the living forms will provide insight into the evolution of this group and may shed light upon the evolution of other African primates as well. This is the first molecular assessment of the evolutionary relationships among the modern colobus monkeys, which are comprised of the black-and-white, olive, and red colobus groups. Over 4,000 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA were amplified and sequenced in over 40 colobus monkey individuals incorporating representatives from all commonly recognized species. Gene trees were inferred using maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference, and penalized likelihood was employed to estimate mitochondrial divergence dates among the sampled taxa. The results are congruent with some aspects of previous phylogenetic hypotheses based on morphology and vocalizations, although the relationships among several West and Central African taxa differ to some degree. The divergence date analysis suggests that the black-and-white, olive, and red colobus had diverged from one another by the end of the Miocene, and that by the Plio-Pleistocene many of the species lineages were already present. This demonstrates that the initial extant colobus monkey diversification occurred much earlier than previously thought and was likely part of the same adaptive radiation that produced the diverse colobine taxa seen in the African Plio-Pleistocene fossil record. The lack of early members from the modern lineages in fossiliferous deposits suggests that they resided in part in the forests of Central and West Africa, which also currently harbor the highest levels of colobus monkey diversity. These forests should not be ignored in models of Plio-Pleistocene human and nonhuman primate evolution.

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