, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 237-256

Disparate Data Sets Resolve Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri) Taxonomy: Implications for Behavioral Ecology and Biomedical Usage

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Abstract

Squirrel monkeys (Saimiri spp.) are the most commonly used neotropical (platyrrhine) monkeys in biomedical research; however, no consensus exists as to the phylogenetic relationships amongst geographic variants or whether these variants represent species or subspecies. Here we report a strongly supported squirrel monkey phylogeny, congruent across multiple data sets, including new field data and the first molecular (mtDNA) cladogram. These data support species-level classification for the three major groups in this study. Approximately the same amount of molecular divergence exists among Saimiri oerstedii, S. sciureus, and S. boliviensis. The S. sciureus/S. oerstedii ancestor diverged from S. boliviensis and shortly thereafter S. sciureus and S. oerstedii diverged. Until now, lack of a robust taxonomy has hindered exploitation of the massive potential of Saimiri for comparative studies. No other primate genus displays such widely divergent, genetically-based social behaviors. Our taxonomy also provides robust support for previous warnings against the widespread use of hybrid squirrel monkeys as research models.