, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 388-392
Date: 03 May 2006

Distribution of Assamese macaques (Macaca assamensis) in the Inner Himalayan region of Bhutan and their mtDNA diversity

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Abstract

The distributions of Assamese macaques (Macaca assamensis) and rhesus macaques (M. mulatta) in Bhutan have been only partially documented. In order to investigate the distribution patterns of these species, we conducted field observation and genetic assessment with mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) typing of macaques in the Inner Himalayas of Bhutan. There were 24 sightings of macaque groups, and all were visually identified as Assamese macaques. No groups of rhesus macaques were sighted in this survey area, in contrast with the survey results in the Nepalese Himalayas. Molecular phylogenetic analysis revealed that the Bhutan macaques are closer in proximity to their counterparts in the Indo-Chinese region (Thailand and Laos) than to rhesus macaques in China, Laos and India. However, clustering results suggested the marked differentiation of the macaques in Bhutan from the Assamese macaques in Indo-China. We tentatively conclude that the macaques of the Inner Himalayan regions in Bhutan are Assamese macaques and that they appear to be of a lineage distinct from Assamese macaques in the Indo-Chinese region (subspecies M. a. assamensis). The degree of mtDNA diversity suggests that the Assamese macaques in Bhutan are of a more ancient ancestry than M. a. assamensis, thereby supporting the speciation hypothesis of the expansion of a sinica-group of macaques from South Asia to Southeast and then to East Asia (Fooden; Fieldiana Zool 45:1–44, 1988). Assignment of Assamese macaques in Bhutan to M. a. pelops is premature due to the lack of molecular data and recent taxonomic controversy. The mtDNA diversity of Assamese macaques was greater than that of rhesus macaques, suggesting the earlier speciation of Assamese macaques. The significance of the ecogeographic segregation model of macaque distribution is discussed in relation to the evolutionary range expansion into the Himalayan regions in South Asia.