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The Colobinae, or leaf monkeys, are distributed geographically across Africa and Asia. Colobinae are specialized arborealists and leaf eaters with sacculated stomachs, sheering teeth, reduced thumbs, and very mobile shoulders. Colobinae diverged ~10.9 million year ago (Ma) from the Cercopithecidae in Africa, and Asian colobines appear in the fossil record in the late Miocene ~8.5 Ma. However, an incomplete fossil record means little is known about the evolutionary pressures that led to Asian colobine migration and diversification. Here, we use recent fossil discoveries and geospatial information to develop hypotheses about how geographic barriers played direct roles in Asian colobine evolution.

Using ArcGIS, we plotted Miocene-epoch to Pleistocene-epoch fossil Colobinae collection sites with overlapping geospatial information including geographic barriers that may have influenced species distribution like the Himalayas and the Hengduan Mountains. We also included extant species’ presence, distributions, and species diversity to assess patterns of distribution over time. Data from each epoch were compared to track species distribution over time.

Results suggest that combining fossil data, extant species’ distributions, and biogeographically relevant geospatial elements provides some parameters for where and when Colobine adaptions were selected for. For example, cold climate adaptions in certain Asian Colobines, especially Rhinopithecus, are not recent and have shaped how that genus is distributed today. These parameters can support powerful hypothesis building about the evolutionary histories of extant species adapting behaviorally and anatomically to densely forested South East Asia.

Publication Date



Primatology, evolution, anthropology, GIS, ARCPro, Colobinae


Biological and Physical Anthropology

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Dr. Amy L. Rector

Is Part Of

VCU Graduate Research Posters

Colobinae evolution: Using GIS to map the distribution of leaf monkeys across Southeast Asia over time