One of Africa's rarest monkeys likely interbred with baboons in its past, new genetic research suggests.
The large monkey called Rungwecebus kipunji, or kipunji for short, was only discovered in 2003, and in 2006 it was found to be an entirely new primate genus, the first such addition since 1923. The shy tree-dwelling monkey, with a black face and long brown fur, resides in two forest patches in Tanzania totaling just 7 square miles (18 square km).
Scientists aren't sure when baboons, which include several species in the Papio genus, diverged from Rungwecebus. But the two look different, with baboons sporting a long flat nose not found in kipunji, and male baboons typically boasting a much larger body size, reaching up to about 65 pounds (30 kg). Male kipunji can weigh up to about 30 pounds (15 kg).
A team of researchers led by Trina Roberts of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, N.C., has just run genetic analyses of dung and tissue samples collected from both kipunji populations: one in Tanzania's Southern Highlands and the other nearby in the Udzungwa Mountains.
In samples from the Southern Highlands, they found bits of DNA similar to that of baboons, suggesting, the researchers say, the two primates interbred at some point after they diverged.
"Way back in time in the evolutionary history of this population there was at least one event where there was some cross-fertilization with a baboon," said study researcher Tim Davenport of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The Udzungwa samples showed no traces of baboon DNA.
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