The history, taxonomy, and geographic origins of an introduced African monkey in the southeastern United States

Abstract

The origins and taxonomy of the introduced vervet monkey population in Dania Beach, Florida has been unconfirmed due to a lack of documentation and genetic research. Our goal was to determine the introduction history, species identification, and geographic origins of the monkeys. Through interviews, historical archives, and popular media, we traced the monkeys to an escape from the Dania Chimpanzee Farm in 1948. The facility imported primates from Africa for medical research purposes. Historical archives suggest the monkeys were caught in Sierra Leone. We tested the hypothesis of West African origins using three genetic markers: one mitochondrial DNA gene (cytochrome b) and two fragments from the Y-chromosome, the sex-determining gene and the zinc-finger gene. We ran Bayesian and maximum-likelihood analyses to reconstruct phylogenetic trees. Results from all loci confirmed the species identification is Chlorocebus sabaeus. We found no variation among the sampled individuals and found the cytochrome b haplotype to be a complete match to a C. sabaeus sample from Senegal. Phylogenetic analyses showed strong support for the Dania Beach mitochondrial and Y-chromosome lineages to group within a monophyletic C. sabaeus clade endemic to West Africa. Our study provides critical baseline information to the scientific community about a little-known population of Chlorocebus monkeys that have adapted to a novel environment in the southeastern United States.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank (1) Cheryl Ruiz, head field research assistant, (2) Broward County Parks and Recreation, (3) participating businesses that assisted with this study, and (4) Emma Larkin-Gero, FAU Primatology Lab technician. Funding for the genetic research was from the FAU Primatology Lab.

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Correspondence to Deborah M. Williams.

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Williams, D.M., Almanza, S.M., Sifuentes-Romero, I. et al. The history, taxonomy, and geographic origins of an introduced African monkey in the southeastern United States. Primates 62, 617–627 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-021-00890-1

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Keywords

  • Vervet
  • Chlorocebus sabaeus
  • Introduced primate
  • Source population
  • Green monkey
  • Genetic markers
  • Florida
  • USA