, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 421-444

Biogeographic and Ecological Forces Responsible for Speciation in Ateles

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We used the results of phylogenetic analyses of relationships among spider monkeys (Ateles) based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA to investigate questions of their evolutionary origins and speciation mechanisms. We employed the concept of a local molecular clock to date nodes of interest (corresponding to hypothesized species and subspecies) in the various phylograms for comparison to hypothesized biogeographical events that might have affected speciation. We considered various mechanisms—Pleistocene refuge formation, riverine barriers, geological fluctuations, and ecological changes associated with these mechanisms—for their contribution to speciation in Ateles. Most speciation among the various species of Ateles occurred during the middle to late Pliocene, suggesting that Pleistocene refuge formation was not a key speciation mechanism. However, it is likely that the genetic structure of populations of Ateles was modified to some extent by refuge formation. Additionally, riverine barriers do not seem to interrupt gene flow significantly among Ateles. No river formed a barrier among species of Ateles, with the exception of the lower Amazon and possibly some of the black-water rivers draining the Guianan highlands. Large-scale geographic changes associated with the continued rise of the eastern and western cordilleras of the northern Andes and associated changes in habitat were the most important causes of speciation in Ateles. The various factors that modify genetic structure in Ateles are important to consider in order to protect endangered primate genera in the Neotropics.