Owl monkeys, belonging to the genus Aotus, have been extensively used as animal models in biomedical research but few reports have focused on the taxonomy and phylogeography of this genus. Moreover, the morphological similarity of several Aotus species has led to frequent misidentifications, mainly at the boundaries of their distribution. In this study, sequence data from five mitochondrial regions and the nuclear, Y-linked, SRY gene were used for species identification and phylogenetic reconstructions using well characterized specimens of Aotus nancymaae, A. vociferans, A. lemurinus, A. griseimembra, A. trivirgatus, A. nigriceps, A. azarae boliviensis and A. infulatus.
The complete MT-CO1, MT-TS1, MT-TD, MT-CO2, MT-CYB regions were sequenced in 18 Aotus specimens. ML and Bayesian topologies of concatenated data and separate regions allowed for the proposition of a tentative Aotus phylogeny, indicating that Aotus diverged some 4.62 Million years before present (MYBP). Similar analyses with included GenBank specimens were useful for assessing species identification of deposited data.
Alternative phylogenetic reconstructions, when compared with karyotypic and biogeographic data, led to the proposition of evolutionary scenarios questioning the conventional diversification of this genus in monophyletic groups with grey and red necks. Moreover, genetic distance estimates and haplotypic differences were useful for species validations.