Ancient DNA of the extinct Jamaican monkey Xenothrix reveals extreme insular change within a morphologically conservative radiation

Published on Dec 11, 2018in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America9.58
· DOI :10.1073/pnas.1808603115
Roseina Woods2
Estimated H-index: 2
(RHUL: Royal Holloway, University of London),
Samuel T. Turvey24
Estimated H-index: 24
(ZSL: Zoological Society of London)
+ 2 AuthorsIan Barnes37
Estimated H-index: 37
(AMNH: American Museum of Natural History)
The insular Caribbean until recently contained a diverse mammal fauna including four endemic platyrrhine primate species, all of which died out during the Holocene. Previous morphological studies have attempted to establish how these primates are related to fossil and extant platyrrhines, whether they represent ancient or recent colonists, and whether they constitute a monophyletic group. These efforts have generated multiple conflicting hypotheses, from close sister-taxon relationships with several different extant platyrrhines to derivation from a stem platyrrhine lineage outside the extant Neotropical radiation. This diversity of opinion reflects the fact that Caribbean primates were morphologically extremely unusual, displaying numerous autapomorphies and apparently derived conditions present across different platyrrhine clades. Here we report ancient DNA data for an extinct Caribbean primate: a limited-coverage entire mitochondrial genome and seven regions of nuclear genome for the most morphologically derived taxon, the Jamaican monkey Xenothrix mcgregori . We demonstrate that Xenothrix is part of the existing platyrrhine radiation rather than a late-surviving stem platyrrhine, despite its unusual adaptations, and falls within the species-rich but morphologically conservative titi monkey clade (Callicebinae) as sister to the newly recognized genus Cheracebus . These results are not congruent with previous morphology-based hypotheses and suggest that even morphologically conservative lineages can exhibit phenetic plasticity in novel environments like those found on islands. Xenothrix and Cheracebus diverged ca. 11 Ma, but primates have been present in the Caribbean since 17.5–18.5 Ma, indicating that Caribbean primate diversity was generated by multiple over-water colonizations.
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