The most extensive DNA study to-date of Africa's rarest monkey reveals that the species had an intriguing sexual pashe most extensive DNA study to-date of Africa's rarest monkey reveals that the species had an intriguing sexual past. Of the last two remaining populations of the recently discovered kipunji, one population shows evidence of past mating with baboons while the other does not, says a new study in Biology Letters. The results may help to set conservation priorities for this critically endangered species, researchers say.
A shy tree-dwelling monkey with a black face and long brown fur, the kipunji (key-POON-jee) was unknown to science until 2003, when it was discovered in a remote region of southern Tanzania. Until recently, little was known about its biology except what scientists could glean from observations and a single specimen found in a farmer's trap. The first analyses revealed that kipunji represented an entirely new genus of primate, Rungwecebus. Now, thanks to additional DNA samples collected from dung and tissue — the most extensive genetic data to date — scientists have a more complete picture of the genetic makeup of this monkey.
The kipunji is found in two tiny forest fragments totaling less than 7 square miles, researchers explained. Of the last two remaining populations, one is in Tanzania's Southern Highlands, and the other lies 250 miles away in a mountain range called the Udzungwas. Armed with six dung samples from the Udzungwas — the first ever genetic material from this population — and two additional tissue samples from the Southern Highlands, the researchers were able to reconstruct the genetic relationships between these populations and kipunji's closest kin.
Confirming other reports, the Southern Highlands population contained bits of DNA that are similar to baboons. This suggests that the two species interbred at some point after they diverged, researchers explained. “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 author Tim Davenport of the Wildlife Conservation Society.