Primate numts and reticulate evolution of capped and golden leaf monkeys (Primates: Colobinae)

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A recent phylogenetic study of langurs and leaf monkeys of South Asia suggested a reticulate evolution of capped and golden leaf monkeys through ancient hybridization between Semnopithecus and Trachypithecus. To test this hybridization scenario, I analysed nuclear copies of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene (numts) from capped, golden and Phayre's leaf monkeys. These numts were aligned with mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences of various species belonging to the genera Semnopithecus and Trachypithecus. In the phylogenetic tree derived from this alignment, the numts fell into three distinct clades (A, B and C) suggesting three independent integration events. Clade A was basal to Semnopithecus, and clades B and C were basal to Trachypithecus. Among the numts in clades A and C were sequences derived from species not represented in their respective sister mitochondrial groups. This unusual placement of certain numts is taken as additional support for the hybridization scenario. Based on the molecular dating of these integration events, hybridization is estimated to have occurred around 7.1 to 3.4 million years ago. Capped and golden leaf monkeys might have to be assigned to a new genus to reconcile their unique evolutionary history. Additionally, northeast India appears to be a ‘hot spot' for lineages that might have evolved through reticulate evolution.

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