The evolution of brachiation in ateline primates, ancestral character states and history

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Abstract

This study examines how brachiation locomotion evolved in ateline primates using recently-developed molecular phylogenies and character reconstruction algorithms, and a newly-collected dataset including the fossils Protopithecus, Caipora, and Cebupithecia. Fossils are added to two platyrrhine molecular phylogenies to create several phylogenetic scenarios. A generalized least squares algorithm reconstructs ateline and atelin ancestral character states for 17 characters that differentiate between ateline brachiators and nonbrachiators. Histories of these characters are mapped out on these phylogenies, producing two scenarios of ateline brachiation evolution that have four commonalities: First, many characters change towards the Ateles condition on the ateline stem lineage before Alouatta splits off from the atelins, suggesting that an ateline energy-maximizing strategy began before the atelines diversified. Second, the ateline last common ancestor is always reconstructed as an agile quadruped, usually with suspensory abilities. It is never exactly like Alouatta and many characters reverse and change towards the Alouatta condition after Alouatta separates from the atelins. Third, most characters undergo homoplastic change in all ateline lineages, especially on the Ateles and Brachyteles terminal branches. Fourth, ateline character evolution probably went through a hindlimb suspension with tail-bracing phase. The atelines most likely diversified via a quick adaptive radiation, with bursts of punctuated change occurring in their postcranial skeletons, due to changing climatic conditions, which may have caused competition among the atelines and between atelines and pitheciines. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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