The rise and fall of a genus: Complete mtDNA genomes shed light on the phylogenetic position of yellow-tailed woolly monkeys, Lagothrix flavicauda, and on the evolutionary history of the family Atelidae (Primates: Platyrrhini)

Anthony Di Fiore, Paulo B. Chaves, Fanny M. Cornejo, Christopher A. Schmitt, Sam Shanee, Liliana Cortés-Ortiz, Valéria Fagundes, Christian Roos, Víctor Pacheco

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34 Scopus citations


Using complete mitochondrial genome sequences, we provide the first molecular analysis of the phylogenetic position of the yellow-tailed woolly monkey, Lagothrix flavicauda (a.k.a. Oreonax flavicauda), a critically endangered neotropical primate endemic to northern Perú. The taxonomic status and phylogenetic position of yellow-tailed woolly monkeys have been debated for many years, but in this study both Bayesian and maximum likelihood phylogenetic reconstructions unequivocally support a monophyletic woolly monkey clade that includes L. flavicauda as the basal taxon within the radiation. Bayesian dating analyses using several alternative calibrations suggest that the divergence of yellow-tailed woolly monkeys from other Lagothrix occurred in the Pleistocene, ~2.1. Ma, roughly 6.5 my after the divergence of woolly monkeys from their sister genus, Brachyteles. Additionally, comparative analysis of the cytochrome oxidase subunit 2 (. COX2) gene shows that genetic distances between yellow-tailed woolly monkeys and other Lagothrix from across the genus' geographic distribution fall well within the range of between-species divergences seen in a large number of other platyrrhine primate genera at the same locus and outside the range of between-genus divergences. Our results thus confirm a position within Lagothrix for the yellow-tailed woolly monkey and strongly suggest that the name Oreonax be formally considered a synonym for this genus. This revision in taxonomic status does not change the dire conservation threats facing the yellow-tailed woolly monkey in Perú, where the remaining wild population is estimated at only ~10,000 individuals living in a highly fragmented landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)495-510
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue numberPB
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A large number of people and institutions helped make this research possible. Foremost, we are very grateful to the governments of Ecuador, Colombia, and Perú for permission to conduct field research on woolly monkeys in all of these countries and to collect and export fecal and tissue samples for genetic analysis. Todd Disotell, Kenny Chiou, Luca Pozzi, Jason Hodgson, and Cliff Jolly of the NYU Molecular Anthropology Laboratory all provided important technical advice and assistance, as did Simone Loss in the Primate Molecular Ecology and Evolution Laboratory at UT Austin. We are very grateful to Alcides Pissinati (Centro de Primatologia do Rio de Janeiro) for providing a crucial sample of the northern muriqui and to the Field Museum of Natural History for generously providing a museum sample of Lagothrix cana (NSF Biotic Survey and Inventory Grant to B.D. Patterson and colleagues, DEB-9870191). Special thanks are also due to Noga Shanee and Neotropical Primate Conservation, Inc., for facilitating field collection of yellow-tailed woolly monkey fecal samples and to the Overbrook Conservation Fellowship for supporting field and lab work on L. flavicauda at the University of Michigan and NYU. Finally, we thank Karen Strier, Derek Wildman, Jean Boubli, Jessica Lynch Alfaro, Richard Kay, and Colin Groves for feedback and encouragement as various stages throughout this project and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments that improved the manuscript. This research was made possible by support from New York University, the New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology, and the University of Texas at Austin.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Inc.


  • Dating analysis
  • Mitogenomics
  • New World monkeys
  • Oreonax
  • Phylogenetics
  • Yellow-tailed woolly monkey


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