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65
Small Carnivore Conservation, Vol. 41: 65–74, August 2009
Taxonomic boundaries and geographic distributions revealed by
an integrative systematic overview of the mountain coatis, Nasuella
(Carnivora: Procyonidae)
Kristofer M. HELGEN1, Roland KAYS2,3, Lauren E. HELGEN1, Mirian T. N. TSUCHIYA-JEREP4,5,
C. Miguel PINTO6,7, Klaus-Peter KOEPFLI8, Eduardo EIZIRIK4 and Jesús E. MALDONADO5
Abstract
The procyonid taxon Nasuella Hollister, 1915, is currently recognized as a monotypic genus comprising the single species N. olivacea
(Gray, 1865), the Mountain Coati, found in montane habitats (circa 1300-4250 m) in the Andes of Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. In
this study we utilize museum specimens to examine the phylogenetic relationships, taxonomy and geographic distribution of Nasuella
populations with an integrative systematic approach. Drawing on morphological comparisons of pelage, cranial, and dental characters,
and molecular comparisons of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome b (from recent and historical samples), we conrm that Nasuella is
closely related to other coatis (Nasua) and show that there are two deeply divergent lineages represented within the taxonomic bounds of
Nasuella. We recognize and diagnose these taxa as two distinctive mountain coati species, corresponding to the Eastern Mountain Coati
Nasuella meridensis (Thomas, 1901), endemic to the Venezuelan Andes, and the Western Mountain Coati N. olivacea, distributed in the
Andes of Colombia and Ecuador. We use locality and habitat data associated with museum specimens to model the global geographic
range of both species. From this we predict areas of undocumented (i.e., currently unvouchered) occurrence, areas of habitat loss as-
sociated with land use changes, and the geographic barrier separating the distributions of N. meridensis and N. olivacea. This newfound
understanding of taxonomy and distribution should allow for a revised conservation assessment for mountain coatis.
Keywords: Andes, cytochrome b, ecomorphology, geographic range modeling, Nasua, Nasuella, phylogenetics, taxonomy
Barreras taxonómicas y distribución geográca reveladas por una revisión integrativa y sistemática del
Coatí de Montaña, Nasuella (Carnivora: Procyonidae)
Resumen
El grupo taxonómico prociónido actualmente reconocido como Nasuella Hollister, 1915, se encuentra considerado como un genero
monotípico que abarca solamente a la especie N. olivacea (Gray, 1865), el Coatí de Montaña, y esta distribuido únicamente en hábitat
montañoso (circa 1300-4250 m) de los andes de Venezuela, Colombia, y Ecuador. En este estudio utilizamos especímenes almacena-
dos en museos internacionales para examinar las relaciones logenéticas, la distribución geográca y la taxonomía de poblaciones de
Nasuella desde un punto de vista integratívo y sistemático. Nuestros resultados basados en comparaciones morfológicas de caracteres
craneales y dentales, y de datos moleculares basados en secuencias del gen mitocondrial de Citocromo b (derivadas de ADN extraído
de tejidos de especimenes congelados recientemente y de especimenes almacenados en etanol y también de hueso de ejemplares deri-
vados de especímenes históricos utilizando protocolos de extracción de ADN antiguo) conrman que el género Nasuella se encuentra
cercanamente relacionado a otros coatís del género Nasua y demuestran que hay dos linajes divergentes representados dentro de los
márgenes taxonómicos de Nasuella. Reconocemos y diagnosticamos a estos dos grupos taxonómicos como especies distintas de Coatís
de Montaña, correspondiente al Coatí de Montaña Oriental Nasuella meridensis (Thomas, 1901), endémico a los Andes de Venezuela;
y al Coatí de Montaña Occidental N. olivacea, distribuido en los Andes de Colombia y Ecuador. Utilizamos datos de hábitat de cada
localidad asociada con los ejemplares de museo para modelar el rango geográco global de ambas especies; y para predecir las áreas
en donde es posible que ocurran y que aun no han sido documentadas (ej. a base de ejemplares de museos), áreas de perdida de hábitat
asociadas con cambios del uso de la tierra, y las barreras geográcas que separan la distribución de N. meridensis y N. olivacea. Este
nuevo entendimiento de sus relaciones logenéticas, distribución y taxonomía deben de permitir una revisión de la evaluación del esta-
tus de conservación para los Coatís de Montaña.
Palabras clave: Andes, Citocromo b, ecomorfología, logenia, modelamiento de rango geográco, Nasua, Nasuella, taxonomía
Introduction
Of the six extant genera currently recognized in the carnivore fam-
ily Procyonidae (Bassaricyon J. A. Allen, 1876; Bassariscus Cou-
es, 1887; Nasua Storr, 1780; Nasuella Hollister, 1915; Potos E.
Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire & F. G. Cuvier, 1795; and Procyon Storr,
1780), the geographically restricted Nasuella is by far the least
studied. It is represented by a single recognized Andean endemic
species - the Mountain Coati N. olivacea (Gray, 1865). Very little
information about this intriguing procyonid has been published,
such that it might be fairly argued that Nasuella is the least-stud-
ied carnivore genus globally.
Even the discovery and introduction of the scientic name
of the species is shrouded in obscurity. The name rst appeared,
as Nasua olivacea, on the last page of an appendix to a listing of
mammal specimens in the British Museum by John Edward Gray
66
Small Carnivore Conservation, Vol. 41, August 2009
(1843). Gray used the name without providing any description or
clarication whatsoever (noting only the locality where the sole
available specimen had been collected—“Santa Fé de Bogota”,
Colombia), so this initial presentation of the name is regarded as
a nomen nudum, unavailable for use in nomenclature. A more of-
cial introduction of this name did not appear for another two dec-
ades, when, discussing the taxonomy of bears and raccoons, Gray
(1865) introduced what is still essentially the current species-level
taxonomy for coatis, and provided a very short accompanying de-
scription validating the use of olivacea for the Mountain Coati.
Gray’s description mentioned only the pelage coloration of the
animal (rather than its small body size or highly distinctive skull
and teeth—its principal distinguishing features): “olive-brown,
grizzled; hairs black-brown, with a yellowish sub-terminal ring;
under fur black; face pale; orbits, legs, and feet blackish brown;
chest yellowish grey; tail short, with black rings and a black tip”
(Gray 1865:703; reprinted a few years later in another museum
catalogue: Gray 1869).
Probably because Gray’s description offered no clear dis-
tinguishing features, and no other specimens became available,
subsequent nineteenth century reviewers were forced to conclude
that N. olivacea was a synonym of the more widespread South
American coati Nasua nasua (referred to in literature at the time as
Nasua rufa”) (e.g., Allen 1880, Sclater 1891). It was not until the
beginning of the twentieth century, starting with a paper by Old-
eld Thomas, that olivacea was recognized as a distinctive coati
species (Thomas 1901) with several supposed subspecies (Thomas
1901, Allen 1913, Lönnberg 1913), and ultimately removed from
other coatis to its own genus, Nasuella (Hollister 1915). Despite
the improvement of this taxonomic understanding a century ago,
the obscurity of Nasuella remains. The lack of any detailed infor-
mation on Nasuella is striking, and pertains to all aspects of its
biology. For example, as far as we are aware, the skull of Nasuella
has only been gured once in the literature, and only in a single
view, from a single specimen (the ventral view of the cranium,
provided in the generic description of Nasuella) (Hollister 1915:
plates 38-39). Even though reasonable samples of skins and skulls
of Nasuella are available in world museum collections, no author
has discussed patterns of geographic variation in the genus based
on data from a variety of specimens encompassing its known geo-
graphic distribution, so it remains unclear if subspecies should be
recognized within N. olivacea (Mondol 1987). Nasuella is the
only procyonid genus (and one of very few carnivoran genera)
that has not been featured in molecular genetic comparisons of
any kind (Koepi et al. 2007, Fulton & Strobeck 2007). Some
fundamental references and eld guides on Neotropical mammals
do not illustrate or include accounts for Nasuella (Emmons & Feer
1990, 1997) or even mention it at all (Lord 2007); those that do
discuss Nasuella offer very brief accounts (e.g., Eisenberg 1989,
Eisenberg & Redford 1999). The most lengthy overview of coati
taxonomy yet written, that of Decker (1991), does not mention
Nasuella at all. (We note that Decker largely overlooked, or at
least did not test, the taxonomic divisions among coatis briey
put forward earlier by Tate [1939:199–200], which we regard as
the best appreciation of patterns of biological diversity in coatis
published to date).
Lack of any detailed research to date on Nasuella also means
that its conservation status is poorly understood. Indeed, a recent
effort to rigorously document the current conservation status of
all extant mammals (Schipper et al. 2008) classied it as “Data
Decient” (Reid & Helgen 2008), making it one of very few ge-
neric-level carnivoran lineages so categorized. In total, previously
published accounts of Nasuella involve only very cursory discus-
sions of geographic variation (Gray 1865, Thomas 1901, Allen
1913, Lönnberg 1913, Cabrera 1958, Mondol 1987); comments
on geographic distribution (Thomas 1901, Allen 1912, 1913,
1916, Lönnberg 1913, Bisbal 1989, Linares 1998, Eisenberg &
Redford 1999, Guzmán-Lenis 2004, Ramírez-Chaves et al. 2008,
Balaguera-Reina et al. 2009); brief anatomical and ecomorpho-
logical comparisons (Hollister 1915, Tate 1939, Mondol 1987,
Decker & Wonzencraft 1991, Friscia et al. 2007); and limited
discussions of ecology and behavior (Rodríguez-Bolaños 2000,
2003, Jarrín-V. 2001).
Our approach in this study has been to use information as-
sociated with museum specimens to provide the rst detailed re-
view of Nasuella across the known geographic range of the genus.
First, we draw on skins and skulls stored in selected museums to
review patterns of morphological geographic variation (and the
appropriateness of trinomial distinctions) in Nasuella. Second, we
undertake molecular comparisons of the mitochondrial gene cy-
tochrome b (abbreviated cyt b), extracted both from recently-col-
lected frozen and ethanol-stored tissues, and from historical muse-
um samples using ancient DNA protocols, to offer an independent
perspective on geographic variation and intrageneric divergences.
Third, we utilize locality and habitat data derived from museum
specimen labels to predict the global geographic distribution of
Nasuella. Crucially, all three approaches (morphological obser-
vations, mitochondrial DNA comparisons, and geographic range
modeling) identify remarkable disjunction (morphological, ge-
netic, and geographic) between Nasuella samples collected in the
Andes of Venezuela and those collected in the Andes of Colombia
and Ecuador. This marked divergence, unanticipated in previous
discussions of Nasuella, necessitates changes to the species-level
taxonomy of Nasuella and requires a re-evaluation of the conser-
vation status of the implicated taxa.
Methods
Morphology
We have studied all Nasuella specimens in the collections of
the American Museum of Natural History, New York (AMNH);
the Natural History Museum, London (BMNH); the Museo
de Zoologia, Universidad Politecnica, Quito, Ecuador (EPN);
the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (FMNH); the
Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet, Stockholm, Sweden (NMS); the
Museo de Zoología, Ponticia Universidad Católica del Ecuador,
Quito, Ecuador (QCAZ); and the National Museum of Natural
History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (USNM). This
includes the type specimens of all named taxa within Nasuella,
almost all specimens previously reported in the literature, and
many never previously reported. As far as we are aware, these
holdings represent the great majority (>90%) of Mountain Coati
specimens in museums, but we also recognize that we have missed
important holdings in Colombian and Venezuelan collections in
preparing this study (cf. Linares 1998, Guzmán-Lenis 2004).
Standard external measurements for museum specimens—
head-body length (HB) and tail length (TV)—were recorded by
the original museum collectors in the eld, as noted on museum
specimen tags and labels. Craniodental variables were measured
by the rst author with digital calipers to the nearest 0.1 mm.
Helgen et al.
67
Small Carnivore Conservation, Vol. 41, August 2009
Table 1. Selected external, cranial, and dental measurements
and ratios in adult specimens of the two species of Mountain
Coatis, Nasuella olivacea and N. meridensis (see Methods for
abbreviations; based on specimens at AMNH, BMNH, FMNH,
NMS, and USNM). The two species differ little in overall skull size,
but N. meridensis has markedly smaller teeth than N. olivacea,
both absolutely and proportionally.
Variable N. olivacea
Colombia, Ecuador
N. meridensis
Venezuela
HB 449 ± 19.4 479 ± 50.7
409 – 487 430 – 540
n = 15 n = 4
TV 247 ± 14.5 242 ± 53.9
220 – 270 192 – 300
n = 15 n = 4
TV/HB 55% 50%
49 – 61% 43 – 60%
n = 15 n = 4
GLS 106.2 ± 6.19 107.5 ± 5.27
96.7 – 115.9 101.0 – 115.3
n = 19 n = 7
ZYG 50.4 ± 5.42 47.1 ± 4.02
40.5 – 57.5 43.4 – 53.8
n = 22 n = 9
ZYG/GLS 47% 44%
41 – 55% 41 – 48%
n = 19 n = 7
M1 L 5.24 ± 0.27 4.38 ± 0.22
4.6 – 5.7 4.1 – 4.6
n = 31 n = 9
M1 W 4.54 ± 0.25 3.93 ± 0.15
4.1 – 5.9 3.7 – 4.1
n = 32 n = 9
Tabled values are mean ± SD, range and sample size (n).
Table 2. Taxa and samples used in molecular comparisons.
Taxon Locality Source
(catalog/reference)
Genbank
number
Bassaricyon gabbii Panama, Limbo plot Koepi et al. (2007) DQ660300
Bassaricyon alleni Peruvian Amazon, Rio Cenapa Koepi et al. (2007) DQ660299
Nasua nasua Bolivia, Santa Cruz Koepi et al. (2007) DQ660303
Nasua nasua Brazil, Ceará Tsuchiya-Jerep (2009) GQ214530
Nasua narica Panama Koepi et al. (2007) DQ660302
Nasua narica USA, New Mexico Koepi in litt unpublished
Nasuella olivacea Ecuador, Papallacta EPN 3414 GQ169038
Nasuella olivacea Ecuador, Pichincha QCAZ 8687 GQ169039
Nasuella olivacea Colombia, Cauca, Malvasa, 3500 m USNM 309043 GQ169040
Nasuella meridensis Venezuela, Timotes, Merida, 3 km W near Paramiro, 3000 m USNM 372854 GQ169041
Single-tooth measurements are measured across the crown. All
measurements of length are in millimeters. Measurements reported
here include greatest length of skull (GLS), zygomatic width
(ZYG), length of the rst upper molar (M1 L), and width of the
rst upper molar (M1 W). Limited sexual dimorphism is evident
in sexed Nasuella samples from the same region (with only zygo-
matic width signicantly larger in males in t-test comparisons),
such that external and craniodental measurements are pooled in
our summary statistics, which are intended to demonstrate a few
key points of comparison between N. olivacea and N. meridensis
(Table 1). In addition to measuring skulls and teeth, we examined
variation in qualitative morphological attributes between Nasuella
populations.
DNA Sequencing
Sequences for Nasuella olivacea and N. meridensis have not pre-
viously been reported in the literature and were newly generated
from fresh and historical museum materials for this study. “Fresh”
Nasuella tissues were sampled from recently collected voucher
specimens from Ecuador at QCAZ and EPN (a skin clip from a
whole specimen stored in ethanol and a sample of tongue from
a frozen whole specimen, Table 2). Tiny fragments of turbinate
bones were also sampled from the nasal cavities of Nasuella skulls
from Colombia and Venezuela stored at the USNM (Table 2). In
addition, we used sequences from representatives of Nasua nasua
and Nasua narica (selecting sequences from widely separated ge-
ographic localities in order to capture as much intraspecic diver-
gence as possible within our limited comparative sample). Newly
reported Nasua sequences were generated in a previous study that
examined the phylogeography of South American coatis (Tsuch-
iya-Jerep 2009) and for a pending study of variation in N. narica
(Koepi in litt.). We also obtained previously-published cyt b se-
quences for Nasua and other procyonid taxa from GenBank (Ta-
ble 2).
Total genomic DNA from tissue samples was extracted using
the QIAGEN DNeasy kit (QIAGEN, Valencia, CA, USA) and the
respective protocol for animal tissues. Polymerase chain reaction
(PCR) and sequencing reactions were carried out with primers
LGL 765 and LGL 766 from Bickham et al. (2004) and using an
MJ thermocycler (MJ Research, Waltham, MA, USA) under the
following conditions, repeated for 35 cycles: denaturation at 94oC
for 1 min, annealing at 50oC for 1 min, extension at 72oC for 1
Taxonomy and distribution of mountain coatis
68
min. The PCR reagents in a 25 µL reaction were 0.2 µL AmpliTaq
(5 units µL-1, Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA, USA), 1µL
per primer (10 µM), 2.5 µL dNTP (2 µM), 2 µL MgCl2 (25 mM),
2.5 µL AmpliTaq Buffer (Applied Biosystems), 2µL BSA (0.01
mg/µL), 1 µL genomic DNA and 12.8 µL sterile water.
Total genomic DNA from turbinate bone samples was ex-
tracted following ancient DNA protocols established by Wisely et
al. (2004). All pre-PCR protocols were conducted in an isolated
ancient DNA laboratory located in a separate building from the
one containing the primary DNA laboratory. Polymerase chain re-
action and sequencing of ancient DNA samples were carried out
using an additional pair of internal primers designed from procyo-
nid sequences generated in this study. A 427 bp fragment of the 5’
end of cyt b was amplied using primer LGL 765 from Bickham
et al. (2004) as the forward primer and H15149Pro as an internal
reverse primer (5’-CTCCTCAAAAGGATATTTGYCCTCA -3’:
the 3’ end corresponds to base 14,576 of the Canis lupus [Wolf]
mtDNA sequence). The PCR prole was modied to include 50
cycles, with reagents as described above.
Polymerase chain reaction products were amplied for se-
quencing using a 10 µL reaction mixture of 2 µL of PCR product,
0.8 µL of primer (10 µM), 1.5 µL Big Dye 5 x Buffer (Applied
Biosystems), 1 µL Big Dye version 3 (Applied Biosystems) and
4.7 µL sterile water. The reaction was run using an MJ thermocy-
cler (MJ Research) with denaturation at 96oC for 10 s, annealing
at 50oC for 10 s and extension at 60oC for 4 min: this was repeated
for 25 cycles. The product was cleaned using a sephadex-based
ltration method, and sequences of both strands were resolved
in a 50 cm array using the ABI PRISM 3130 Genetic Analyzer
(Applied Biosystems). Sequences were aligned and edited in Se-
quencher version 4.7 (Gene Codes Corporation).
Phylogenetic analyses
Phylogenetic analyses were conducted using two approaches.
First, we used sequences from a 366-bp fragment from the 5’ end
of cyt b, enabling the inclusion of the two Nasuella sequences
obtained from the turbinate samples while reducing the effect
of missing information due to the short length of the sequences.
Second, short sequences were excluded from the analyses, and
only samples for which the entire cyt b gene had been sequenced
were used to assess the strength of the generic relationships and
to provide further evidence for branch support and divergence es-
timates. The sequence data were analyzed using maximum par-
simony, maximum-likelihood, Bayesian, and distance methods.
PAUP* 4.0b10 (Swofford 2003) was used for neighbor-joining
and maximum parsimony analyses; maximum likelihood analyses
were conducted using GARLI 0.96b (Zwickl 2006). We used the
olingo species Bassaricyon gabbii and B. alleni as outgroup taxa
because Bassaricyon has been previously shown to be the sister
group to the coatis in recent, more detailed phylogenetic studies
(Koepi et al. 2007, Fulton & Strobeck 2007).
A neighbor-joining tree was created using the HKY85 method
with pair-wise distances calculated using the Kimura 2-parameter
(K2P) model. The branch and bound search method was used for
the maximum parsimony analyses. Parsimony bootstrap support
was estimated using the heuristic search method with 100 random
stepwise taxon additions for 1000 replicates. The maximum likeli-
hood analysis was conducted using the following parameters; rate
matrix = (14.127, 187.864, 16.570, 0.728, 335.001, 1.000); base
frequencies (A = 0.2714, C = 0.2834, G = 0.1806, T = 0.2646);
proportion of invariable sites = 0.0099; gamma distribution shape
parameter = 0.2377 for the short cyt b sequences. For the entire cyt
b sequences, the parameters were: rate matrix = (2.688, 104.784,
3.938, 0.182, 80.935, 1.000); base frequencies (A = 0.3200, C =
0.3109, G = 0.1299, T = 0.2391); proportion of invariable sites
= 0.0196; gamma distribution shape parameter = 0.2408. These
parameters, and the best model of evolution (GTR+G+I), were
estimated using GARLI. Maximum likelihood bootstrap support
was estimated with 500 replicates.
MrModeltest version 2.2 (Nylander 2004) was used to nd
the best model for the Bayesian analyses under the Akaike infor-
mation criterion. The parameters were then applied in MrBayes
version 3.1 (Huelsenbeck & Ronquist 2001). The model param-
eters were set to nst = 6 with a proportion of invariable sites (GTR
+ I). Two replicates of the Bayesian analysis were run, each using
1,000,000 generations in four chains, with a heating parameter of
0.05, and sampling frequency of 100 steps.
Molecular divergence estimates were generated in MEGA4
(Tamura et al. 2007). A distance tree was generated using the
HKY85 model with a constant rate applied across the tree. Di-
vergences were calibrated using the 12 mya estimate of diver-
gence between Bassaricyon and Nasua calculated by Koepi et
al. (2007).
Geographic Range Modeling
We used Maximum Entropy Modeling (Maxent) (Phillips et al.
2005) to predict the geographic range of Nasuella species based
on 33 vouchered localities derived from our specimen examina-
tions (list of localities available on request) and 20 environmental
variables representing potential vegetation and climate. Localities
were georeferenced with data derived from museum specimen
tags, often with clarifying reference to the ornithological gazet-
teers prepared by Paynter (1982, 1993, 1997). For potential veg-
etation we used the 15 major habitat types classied as ecological
biomes (Olson et al. 2001). For climate we used 19 BIOCLIM
variables representing annual trends, seasonality, and extremes
in temperature and precipitation across portions of Central and
South America (derived from Hijmans et al. [2005] as described at
http://www.worldclim.org/bioclim.htm). Because there were so
few records for N. meridensis, we constructed the model for the
genus and later distinguished the two species based on the location
of voucher specimens. We used all vouchered specimen locali-
ties in our dataset to train the nal model. We also tested model
performance by running 10 iterations while randomly withholding
20% of the points as test locations. To produce geographic rang-
es showing presence/absence of a species we used the average
equal training sensitivity and specicity for the 10 test models as
our probability cutoff value (Phillips et al. 2005). To evaluate the
present conservation status in these areas we overlapped predicted
ranges with estimates of modern land use (Eva et al. 2004).
Results
Morphological comparisons
Morphological comparisons of Nasuella specimens deposited in
world museums revealed: 1) outstanding morphological distinc-
tions between Nasuella collected in the Venezuelan Andes versus
Nasuella from Colombia and Ecuador; and 2) more subtle, but
consistent, distinctions between Nasuella from Ecuador and Co-
lombia.
Helgen et al.
Small Carnivore Conservation, Vol. 41, August 2009
69
Fig. 1. Skulls and teeth in the two species of Nasuella. Left, N.
meridensis, USNM 143658 (older subadult or young adult female,
from Guache, Montes De La Culata, 3000 m, Merida, Venezuela).
Right, N. olivacea olivacea, USNM 240034 (adult female, from
Choachi, Colombia). Scale bar = 20 mm. From top to bottom,
shown are dorsal, ventral, and lateral views of crania, lateral view
of the mandibles, and dorsal view of the mandibles with enlarged
(circa x 2) view of the mandibular toothrow. White arrows in the
ventral view of the crania highlight the palate behind the last molar,
which is extended in N. meridensis relative to N. olivacea, and the
smaller teeth of N. meridensis. Black arrows in the lateral view of
the crania highlight the position of the anterior alveolar foramen
(cf. Decker 1991), which is usually situated farther anterior of
the infraorbital foramen in N. meridensis. White arrows in the
lateral view of the mandible illustrate the conguration of the
posterior processes of the dentary, in which the juxtaposition of the
coronoid and condyloid processes is generally more expansively
“excavated” in N. meridensis. The ventral view of the mandible
and the close-up view of the mandibular toothrow illustrate the
much smaller teeth of N. meridensis relative to N. olivacea.
Fig. 2. Size distinction in the upper rst molar (M1) in N. meridensis
(closed symbols) and N. olivacea (open symbols). Symbols: Closed
dots = N. meridensis (Venezuela); open squares = N. o. olivacea
(Colombia); open diamonds= N. o. quitensis (Ecuador).
Distinctions between Venezuelan and other Nasuella sam-
ples include differences in pelage coloration, differences in quali-
tative craniodental characteristics, and differences in the size
and proportion of the teeth, especially the premolars and molars.
Compared to Nasuella from Colombia and Ecuador, Venezuelan
animals generally have paler, more olive-brown fur (more red-
dish or blackish in skins from Colombia and Ecuador), a blackish
mid-dorsal stripe on the back (not as apparent in skins from Co-
lombia and Ecuador), and a slightly shorter tail on average (Table
1). Qualitative craniodental distinctions between Venezuelan and
other Nasuella involve the conguration of the bony palate (ex-
tending farther behind the molar row) and palatal shelf (less mark-
edly depressed posteriorly), the anterior alveolar foramen (usu-
ally extending farther anterior of the infraorbital foramen), and
the conguration of the dentary, in which the posterior processes
tend to be more broadly dissociated posteriorly (Fig. 1). The most
striking distinction between Venezuelan and other Nasuella is the
grossly reduced dentition of Venezuelan animals, such that each
premolar and molar is absolutely smaller in dimensions of length
and width compared to Colombian and Ecuadoran Nasuella sam-
ples (e.g. Figs 1 and 2; Table 1). Because the skull is the same size
in Venezuelan animals as in other populations, this distinction in
the size of the teeth constitutes a rather extraordinary distinction
in proportional terms (Fig. 1, Table 1).
Specimens from Colombia and Ecuador are similar in most
aspects, and have teeth that are equivalent in size (e.g., Fig. 2).
Relative to Colombian samples, animals from Ecuador have con-
sistently smaller skulls on average (maximum observed skull
length is 105 in our Ecuadoran samples, versus 116 in Colombian
skulls) and have darker, more blackish fur, and tail rings that are
less clearly dened.
Molecular phylogenetics
We obtained the same topology and high support values for all
analyses (Figs 3 and 4), providing strong support for the mono-
phyly of each species, but paraphyly for the genus Nasua with
respect to Nasuella (Nasuella is recovered as the sister lineage to
Nasua narica; support for this nding is particularly strong for the
analyses of the complete cyt b sequences—Fig. 4).
All analyses of short sequences produce a single moderate
to strongly supported topology for the monophyly of Nasuella
(Fig. 3). The sequence from the Nasuella sample from Venezuela
represents a lineage basal to those from Ecuador and Colombia.
Within this Ecuador – Colombia clade there is only a 1.9-2.9%
sequence divergence under the K2P model, but the divergence be-
tween this clade and the Venezuela sequence based on the K2P
distance is three times greater ranging from 8.0 to 9.1%. The long-
er sequences show a 2.1% K2P distance between the two Nasuella
from Ecuador. The pairwise divergence estimates for the short
cyt b sequences proved to be similar to divergence estimates from
the entire cyt b data set. For the other samples, based on analyses
Taxonomy and distribution of mountain coatis
Small Carnivore Conservation, Vol. 41, August 2009
70
Fig. 3. Molecular relationships of coatis based on partial
cytochrome b sequences. One of three most parsimonious trees
(length = 167, retention index = 0.763, consistency index =
0.760) from the partial sequence of the cyt b gene (366 bp). This
comparison allows for the inclusion of the short sequence generated
from DNA extracted from the turbinate bones of a specimen of N.
meridensis. Branch support values represent maximum parsimony
and maximum likelihood bootstrap support, followed by Bayesian
posterior probabilities values, respectively.
Fig. 4. Molecular relationships of coatis based on complete
cytochrome b sequences. The single most parsimonious tree (length
= 495, retention index = 0.764, consistency index = 0.792) from
the complete cyt b gene (1140 bp). This comparison excludes the
short sequence generated from DNA extracted from the turbinate
of a specimen of N. meridensis. Branch support values shown for
all branches were the same in all analyses (maximum parsimony
and maximum likelihood bootstrap values and Bayesian posterior
probabilities).
Fig. 5. Bioclimatic distribution models and localities for Nasuella.
Generated from Maxent using 33 vouchered occurrence records,
19 bioclimatic variables, and one potential habitat variable.
of the short and long sequences, the distance between the two N.
narica sequences was 4.4% and 4.9% and between the N. nasua
was 7.4 and 6.0% respectively. The divergence values within Nas-
ua were 18.5-19.3%, and the divergence values between N. narica
and Nasuella (Ecuador) was 9.7-12.6%.
Geographic range modeling
The distribution model was judged to have performed well based
on high values for area under the curve of the nal model (AUC
= 0.995) and unregularized training gain (3.986). Models also
performed well when we withheld 20% of the locations to test a
model built on the remaining 80% of the locations (test AUC =
0.974, unregularized training gain = 3.38). The full Maxent distri-
bution model shows most lowland areas as unsuitable, with some
moderately appropriate conditions in the highlands of Central
America and the Guianan shield, but the highest quality areas in
the Andes (Fig. 5). The relative contributions of the environmen-
tal variables were highest for three associated with temperature.
Temperature seasonality (estimated as standard deviation) had the
highest contribution (40.1%) followed by the maximum tempera-
ture of the warmest month (24.0%) and mean temperature of the
warmest quarter (22.9%).
To create a presence/absence range map we calculated the
average probability value giving equal training sensitivity and
specicity averaged across our 10 test models (p = 0.151, Fig. 6).
There was a clean break in the predicted range between Venezuela
and the rest of the Andes, suggesting that geographic isolation may
have contributed to the evolution of two deeply divergent allopat-
ric species, N. olivacea and N. meridensis, as indicated by our mo-
Helgen et al.
Small Carnivore Conservation, Vol. 41, August 2009
71
Fig. 7. Present land use across the predicted geographic
distribution of Nasuella (N. olivacea and N. meridensis). Land
use data from Eva et al. (2004).
Fig. 6. Predicted distribution for Nasuella based on bioclimatic
models. To create these binary maps we used the average minimum
training presence for 10 test models as our cutoff. In addition, we
excluded areas of high probability that were outside of the known
range of the species if they were separated by unsuitable habitat.
The distribution model was made using all records for the genus
and later divided between the two species based on specimen
records.
lecular and morphological comparisons. Although N. olivacea has
a relatively large range, only 36% of this area is presently forested
(Table 3). Furthermore, these forests are highly fragmented, espe-
cially by agriculture along the central axis of its range. Nasuella
meridensis has a smaller range, but apparently less disturbed by
agriculture than N. olivacea (Fig. 7).
Discussion
Our examinations of museum skulls and skins reveal striking
qualitative and morphometric distinctions between Mountain
Coati populations from the Venezuelan Andes compared to popu-
lations from Colombia and Ecuador, which suggest considerable
ecomorphological distinction between these forms. Presumably
some of these differences, especially the excessively reduced teeth
of Venezuelan animals, reect functionally important distinctions
such as differences in feeding mode and ecology, but this awaits
further clarifying study.
These morphological distinctions are complemented by re-
markably high sequence divergence in the cytochrome b gene
(8-9%) between Venezuelan and other populations of Nasuella.
This level of morphological and molecular divergence clearly in-
dicates that these are deeply divergent lineages, and we recom-
mend that they be recognized as two distinct, and clearly diagnos-
able, allopatric species. Though these taxa have been regarded as
conspecic in the past, the name meridensis, applied by Thomas
(1901) to Mountain Coati populations from the Merida Andes, is
an available name for the Venezuelan taxon. The type locality of
N. olivacea (Gray 1865) is the vicinity of Bogota in Colombia
(Cabrera 1958); remaining species-level synonyms of N. olivacea
include lagunetae (J. A. Allen 1913), with type locality “La Gun-
eta (alt. 10,300 ft.), West Quindio Andes, Cauca, Colombia”, and
quitensis (Lönnberg 1913), with syntypes originating from Lloa
and Gualea in Ecuador. To us, distinctions between Colombian
and Ecuadoran samples of N. olivacea in both skull size and pel-
age (with Ecuadoran animals having signicantly smaller skulls
and darker fur) and mtDNA (2-3% divergence in cyt b) support the
traditional recognition (e.g., Lönnberg 1913, Wozencraft 2005) of
separate subspecies in Colombia (N. o. olivacea) and Ecuador (N.
o. quitensis); the precise geographic boundaries of these subspe-
cies remain to be determined.
Nasuella was originally diagnosed as a genus distinct from
Nasua especially on the basis of its smaller body size, shorter tail,
and more gracile skull and teeth (Hollister 1915), and has been
recognized as a separate genus since its description. An intriguing
result from analysis of coati cyt b sequences is the lack of support
for monophyly of the two species classied in the genus Nasua
(N. nasua and N. narica) relative to Nasuella. Instead, Nasuella
(i.e., N. olivacea + N. meridensis) is recovered as the sister line-
Taxonomy and distribution of mountain coatis
Small Carnivore Conservation, Vol. 41, August 2009
72
age to N. narica, with high support. Thus it seems likely that the
genus Nasua as currently recognized is not monophyletic, and that
all coatis may instead be better classied as a single genus, Nasua
(i.e., with Nasuella as a synonym), representing three deeply di-
vergent evolutionary lineages—South American N. nasua; North
American N. narica (with N. nelsoni of Cozumel); and Andean
N. olivacea and N. meridensis. We continue to use Nasuella as a
genus name in this paper pending additional clarifying morpho-
logical and genetic comparisons, particularly involving biparental
(nuclear DNA) markers, which, in tandem with our mtDNA data,
should allow for a more denitive resolution of coati evolutionary
history.
Our review of the known and predicted geographic distribu-
tion of Nasuella identies a narrow but very clear geographic gap
in predicted occurrence between N. meridensis and N. olivacea in
the vicinity of the Colombian-Venezuelan border (Figs 5 and 6).
We speculate that this current distributional discrepancy also re-
ects the ancient biogeographic origin of these two allopatric taxa,
for example by a climate-associated vicariant event that isolated
these two populations in high montane habitats across this divide.
Whatever the origin of the two species’ current distributions, their
distinctness has clearly been maintained in the face of uctuating
Pleistocene climate episodes during which montane forests may
have periodically extended to considerably lower elevations than
they do today (e.g., Schubert 1974), perhaps marginalizing the
current biogeographic gap between these Andean regions.
One potentially substantive result of the geographic mod-
eling analyses presented here is the identication of areas where,
even though geographic records are currently lacking, Mountain
Coatis may occur. Priorities for renewed survey efforts aimed at
documenting the full geographic distribution of Nasuella include
the southern portion of the predicted range, which extends into
northern Peru. Some authors have previously suggested the possi-
bility that the distribution of Nasuella may extend into Peru (e.g.,
Eisenberg 1989, Eisenberg & Redford 1999), but we know of no
vouchered records to date. If present there, Peru might provide
some of the largest remaining forested habitat in the range of N.
olivacea, so this is important to establish. Another priority area for
eld surveys is the northern extension of the western cordillera of
Colombia; candidate habitat is present in this region, but we are
not aware of any records from this area to date. Other islands of
potential habitat, isolated from the known range of Nasuella, are
to be found in areas of northern Colombia as well as the Darien
Mountains of Panama, and these offer further survey priorities.
We offer this revision of taxonomic boundaries, along with
an overview of the geographic distribution of Nasuella, as neces-
sary steps along a path toward generating a better understanding
of the conservation status of Mountain Coatis, and identifying pri-
orities that may assist in conservation planning and management
initiatives for Mountain Coatis. Importantly, recognition of two
species of Nasuella requires that conservation considerations be
made separately for both, and demonstrates that these taxa each
have smaller geographic ranges than the combined range of N.
olivacea as previously recognized (e.g., N. meridensis has a rela-
tively limited distribution, restricted to high montane habitats in
the Venezuelan Andes). The conservation status of “N. olivacea
(i.e., embracing both Mountain Coati species) is currently re-
garded as “Data Decient”, especially because of “ongoing uncer-
tainty surrounding the potential impacts of habitat loss and habitat
conversion to agriculture” on Mountain Coati populations (Reid
& Helgen 2008, Schipper et al. 2008). Our analyses suggest that
a large proportion of the potential geographic range of Nasuella,
especially of the Western Mountain Coati, is dominated by ag-
ricultural landscapes, which now fragment cloud forest habitats
throughout the Andes—habitats on which Nasuella presumably
depends (see also Balaguera-Reina et al. 2009). We hope that the
new information brought to light here can be combined with bet-
ter “on the ground” knowledge of Mountain Coatis—information
such as the presence and security of Nasuella populations in pro-
tected areas, the extent to which Nasuella occurs in agricultural
habitats, and the severity of threats such as deforestation and hunt-
ing—to provide a more insightful prognosis for the conservation
of these remarkable Andean carnivores.
Taxonomy
Nasuella olivacea (Gray 1865)
Suggested English common name: Western Mountain Coati.
Diagnosis: Body size smaller, tail shorter, and teeth markedly
smaller than in the species of Nasua; distinguished from N. meri-
densis in having more saturate pelage (more rufous or blackish),
usually without a blackish mid-dorsal stripe; much larger teeth,
especially premolars and molars (e.g. Figs 1 and 2); a shorter lat-
eral extension of the palate behind the upper molars (Fig. 1); the
(postdental) “palatal shelf” posteriorly depressed; and the anterior
alveolar foramen situated within or just anterior to the infraorbital
foramen.
Distribution: Nasuella olivacea is endemic to the Andes of Co-
lombia and Ecuador (Fig. 6), where it is known from cloud forest
and paramo habitats, at elevations between 1300 and 4250 me-
ters (specimens at AMNH, BMNH, EPN, FMNH, NMS, QCAZ,
USNM, Balaguera-Reina et al. 2009). Some information on the
ecology and behavior of this species in Colombia has been pub-
lished in the past decade (Rodríguez-Bolaños 2000, 2003).
Subspecies: We recommend that two subspecies can be admit-
ted on current evidence, with the precise geographic boundary
between the two currently undened.
N. o. olivacea (Gray 1865). Skull growing larger (greatest length
97-116 mm in adults), pelage paler (more brown), with dark tail
rings usually evident on the tail. Distributed throughout the An-
des of Colombia (lagunetae J.A. Allen 1913, is a synonym; see
above).
N. o. quitensis (Lönnberg 1913). Skull smaller (greatest length 97-
105 mm in adults), pelage darker (more blackish), with dark tail
rings less clearly visible on the tail. Distributed throughout the
Andes of Ecuador.
Table 3. Present land use in the predicted range of N. olivacea and
N. meridensis. “Other” includes various inappropriate habitats
(urban areas, ice, and lakes). Areas are in square kilometers.
N. olivacea N. meridensis
Area % Area %
Forest 101,784 36.2 10,413 53.8
Grassland 75,712 26.9 5,953 30.8
Agriculture 101,042 35.9 2,728 14.1
Other 2,445 0.9 249 1.3
Total 280,983 19,342
Helgen et al.
Small Carnivore Conservation, Vol. 41, August 2009
73
Nasuella meridensis (Thomas 1901)
Suggested English common name: Eastern Mountain Coati.
Diagnosis: Body size smaller, tail shorter, and teeth markedly
smaller than in the species of Nasua; distinguished from N. oli-
vacea in having more olivaceous pelage, usually with a blackish
dorsal stripe; much smaller teeth, especially premolars and molars
(e.g. Figs 1 and 2); a longer lateral extension of the palate be-
hind the upper molars (Fig. 1); the (postdental) “palatal shelf” less
posteriorly depressed; and the anterior alveolar foramen situated
farther anterior relative to the infraorbital foramen.
Distribution: Nasuella meridensis is endemic to the Venezuelan
Andes (Fig. 6), where it is known from cloud forest and paramo
habitats, at elevations between 2000 and 4000 meters (Thomas
1901, Handley 1976, Bisbal 1989, Linares 1998). We know of no
ecological or behavioral studies of N. meridensis to date, but se-
lected ecological attributes of their montane habitats have been
subject to informative overview studies (e.g., Ataroff & Rada
2000, Barthlott et al. 2001, Janzen et al. 1976, Kelly et al. 1994,
Marquez et al. 2004, Paoletti et al. 1991, Pérez 1992). The species
is monotypic (i.e., no subspecies can be recognized).
Acknowledgments
For access to specimens under their care, loan of specimens or tissues,
and other assistance, we are grateful to L. Albuja, L. Gordon, D. Lunde,
E. Westwig, R. Voss, W. Stanley, B. Patterson, S. Burneo, P. Jenkins, D.
Hills, R. Wayne, R. Arcos, S. Balaguera-Reina, A. Cepeda, D. Zarrate-
Charry, and J. González-Maya. We thank R. Fleischer for support of our
work in the Genetics Program at the Smithsonian Institution, and S. Don-
nellan, D. Wilson, and J. Schipper for thoughtful reviews of our manu-
script.
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1Division of Mammals, National Museum of Natural History,
NHB 390, MRC 108, Smithsonian Institution, P.O. Box
37012, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012, USA.
2New York State Museum, CEC 3140, Albany, New York
12230, USA.
3Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Box 0843-03092,
Balboa, Ancon, Panama.
4Faculdade de Biociências, Pontifícia Universidade Católica
do Rio Grande do Sul, Av. Ipiranga, 6681, 90619-900, Porto
Alegre, Brazil.
5Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics,
National Museum of Natural History and National Zoological
Park, 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.
20008, USA.
6Department of Biological Sciences and the Museum, Texas
Tech University, Lubbock, Texas 79409-3131, USA.
7Centro de Investigación en Enfermedades Infecciosas,
Escuela de Ciencias Biológicas, Ponticia Universidad
Católica del Ecuador, Quito, Ecuador.
8Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University
of California, Los Angeles, California, 90095-1606, USA.
Correspondence to K. M. H. (helgenk@si.edu) & J. E. M.
(maldonadoj@si.edu)
Helgen et al.
Small Carnivore Conservation, Vol. 41, August 2009
35
Co r r i g e n d u m
Helgen, K. M., Kays, R., Helgen, L. E., Tsuchiya-Jerep, M. T. N., Pinto, C. M., Koepi, K. P., Eizirik, E. & Maldonado, J. E. 2009.
Taxonomic boundaries and geographic distributions revealed by an integrative systematic overview of the mountain coatis, Nasuella
(Carnivora: Procyonidae). Small Carnivore Conservation 41: 65–74.
Fig. 3 (page 70) revised. Molecular relationships of coatis based on partial cytochrome b sequences. One of three most parsimonious
trees (length = 167, retention index = 0.763, consistency index =0.760) from the partial sequence of the cyt b gene (366 bp). This
comparison allows for the inclusion of the short sequence generated from DNA extracted from the turbinate bones of a specimen of N.
meridensis. Branch support values represent maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood bootstrap support, followed by Bayesian
posterior probabilities values, respectively.
The bootstrap support values for the maximum likelihood estimate were incorrect in the original article. Our overall taxonomic
conclusions remain unchanged.
Small Carnivore Conservation, Vol. 42, June 2010
... Nasua nasua es una especie de amplia distribución en Suramérica, desde Colombia y Brasil hasta el norte de Uruguay y Argentina, encontrándose en una gran variedad de hábitats desde los 0 hasta los 3600 msnm (Emmons & Helgen 2008. Por otra parte, N. olivacea presenta una distribución y hábitats más restringidos a la cordillera de los Andes desde Colombia hasta Ecuador y occidente de Venezuela (esta última zona correspondería a la especie Nasuella meridensis) desde los 1800 hasta los 4260 msnm (Reid & Helgen 2008, Helgen et al. 2009. A pesar de este conocimiento y sus distribuciones a escala continental, aun es poco lo que se conoce a nivel local y regional sobre estas especies ecológicamente similares (aunque N. olivacea un poco más pequeña que N. nasua), más aun sobre su posible simpatría en áreas donde hay un sobrelapamiento potencial a nivel altitudinal (González-Maya et al. 2016). ...
... Es posible que este patrón y la distribución de N. olivacea incluso abarque zonas del noroccidente de Perú, como se ha sugerido anteriormente. Más aun N. olivacea puede estar cohabitando en algunas áreas con N. meridensis en los límites de sus distribuciones entre Colombia y Venezuela (Helgen et al. 2009, González-Maya et al. 2016. Esto demuestra lo poco que se conoce sobre la presencia de estas especies a nivel local y regional, y de sus ...
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