Genetic structure of an isolated population of mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) on Barro Colorado Island, Panama
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- Milton, K., Lozier, J.D. & Lacey, E.A. Conserv Genet (2009) 10: 347. doi:10.1007/s10592-008-9584-3
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Habitat fragmentation may influence genetic variability through reductions in population size and the physical isolation of conspecifics. We explored the effects of these factors on genetic diversity in a population of mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) on Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama. The study population was established in 1914 when an unknown number of resident individuals were isolated from the surrounding mainland by damming of the Río Chagres to create the Panama Canal. Analyses of 10 microsatellite loci indicated that, despite this isolation, the howler monkeys on BCI exhibit levels of genetic diversity (HS = 0.584 ± 0.063) among the highest reported for any species of Alouatta. These data also revealed that although relatedness among adults in a social group was significantly greater than zero, the BCI population is not highly genetically structured. Tests for genetic bottlenecks based on departures from equilibrium expectations failed to reveal evidence of a recent reduction in population size. In contrast, coalescent modeling indicated that this population has likely experienced a marked decline within the last few 100 years. These findings generate new insights into the genetic structure of A. palliata and suggest that while the formation of BCI may not have substantially reduced genetic variation in these animals, genetic diversity has been influenced by historical changes in population size.