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PLoS One. 2009;4(3):e4859. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004859. Epub 2009 Mar 19.

Is the new primate genus rungwecebus a baboon?

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Cognitive Ethology, Deutsches Primatenzentrum, Göttingen, Germany.



In 2005, a new primate species from Tanzania, the kipunji, was described and recognized as a member of the mangabey genus Lophocebus. However, molecular investigations based upon a number of papionins, including a limited sample of baboons of mainly unknown geographic origin, identified the kipunji as a sister taxon to Papio and not as a member of Lophocebus. Accordingly, the kipunji was separated into its own monotypic genus, Rungwecebus.


We compare available mitochondrial and nuclear sequence data from the voucher specimen of Rungwecebus to other papionin lineages, including a set of geographically proximal (parapatric) baboon samples. Based on mitochondrial sequence data the kipunji clusters with baboon lineages that lie nearest to it geographically, i.e. populations of yellow and chacma baboons from south-eastern Africa, and thus does not represent a sister taxon to Papio. Nuclear data support a Papio+Rungwecebus clade, but it remains questionable whether Rungwecebus represents a sister taxon to Papio, or whether it is nested within the genus as depicted by the mitochondrial phylogeny.


Our study clearly supports a close relationship between Rungwecebus and Papio and might indicate that the kipunji is congeneric with baboon species. However, due to its morphological and ecological uniqueness Rungwecebus more likely represents a sister lineage to Papio and experienced later introgressive hybridization. Presumably, male (proto-)kipunjis reproduced with sympatric female baboons. Subsequent backcrossing of the hybrids with kipunjis would have resulted in a population with a nuclear kipunji genome, but which retained the yellow/chacma baboon mitochondrial genome. Since only one kipunji specimen was studied, it remains unclear whether all members of the new genus have been impacted by intergeneric introgression or rather only some populations. Further studies with additional Rungwecebus samples are necessary to elucidate the complete evolutionary history of this newly-described primate genus.

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