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Quaternary climate change and social behavior shaped the genetic differentiation of an endangered montane primate from the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau

Abstract

Multiple factors, including climate change, dispersal barriers, and social behavior influence the genetic structure of natural populations. While the effects of extrinsic factors such as historical climatic change and habitat topography have been well studied, mostly in temperate habitats, the simultaneous effects of intrinsic factors such as social behavior on genetic structure have rarely been explored. Such simultaneous effect, however, may particularly be common in social mammals such as many primates. Consequently, we studied the population structure of a rare and endangered social primate, the Arunachal macaque Macaca munzala , endemic to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, located on the subtropical southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau and forming part of the Eastern Himalayan biodiversity hotspot. We studied a 534 bp‐long mitochondrial DNA sequence and 22 autosomal microsatellite loci in individuals from three populations, Tawang, Upper Subansiri, and West Siang. The mtDNA data revealed three major divergence events: that between the Arunachal and bonnet macaques (ca. 1.61 mya), the founding of the West Siang population and the ancestral population of the present‐day bonnet macaques (ca. 1.32 mya), and the divergence between the Tawang and Upper Subansiri populations (ca. 0.80 mya) that coincided with the major glacial events in the region. Comparing mitochondrial DNA with autosomal microsatellites, we also found evidence for female philopatry and male‐driven long‐distance gene flow. Arunachal macaques thus appear to be characterized by groups of philopatric females separated by geographical barriers and harsh climate but with dispersing males exerting a homogenizing effect on the nuclear gene pool. Given that severe population differentiation is of major concern in species conservation, we suggest that our study populations represent significant conservation units of this rare, endangered primate but, more importantly, emphasize the complex interplay of extrinsic and intrinsic factors in shaping the population structure of a social mammalian species.

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