Genetic detective work at Columbia University has unraveled the complicated lineages of African and Asian macaques, a genus of cocker-spaniel-sized monkeys that is more widespread than any other primate except humans.
New information about how, when and where the macaques spread across three continents over the last 5 million years is expected to tell anthropologists more about how other mammals dispersed and adapted to the same conditions.
Among the many findings is that the sole African member of the genus and the widespread Asian long-tailed macaques have been inaccurately placed among the other macaques. The study, which appears in the January 1998 issue of the Journal of Human Evolution, clearly separates the Barbary ape of Morocco and Algeria from the Asian macaques and finds no particular genetic affinity of the Asian long-tailed macaques with other members of a species group that bears its name. The researchers advocate abolishing that species group as a classification.
The study of all 19 living macaque species confirms that the genus is one of the oldest among Asian monkeys, dating to at least 7 million years ago, and one of the most successful, radiating from its home base in Africa to Europe and across southern Asia, from eastern Afghanistan through Pakistan, India, southern China, Burma, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and the Indonesian archipelago.
The research was reported by Juan Carlos Morales, associate research scientist at the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation at Columbia, who conducted the genetic analysis, and Don J. Melnick, professor of anthropology and biological sciences and director of the Center, who gathered most of the field specimens for genetic analysis over a period of 20 years and worked with Dr. Morales to interpret the results.
Because it shows how and where macaques spread most rapidly -- throughout
Asia over the past 5 million years -- the new work wil
Contact: Bob Nelson, Office of Public Affairs