Conservation genetics of Philippine tarsiers: identification of cryptic genetic variation restructures conservation priorities in an enigmatic island archipelago primate
Establishment of conservation priorities for primates is a particular concern in the island archipelagos of Southeast Asia, where rates of habitat destruction are among the highest in the world. Conservation programs require knowledge of taxonomic diversity to ensure success. The Philippine tarsier is a flagship species that promotes environmental awareness and a thriving ecotourism economy in the Philippines. However, assessment of its conservation status has been impeded by taxonomic uncertainty, a paucity of field studies, and a lack of vouchered specimens and genetic samples available for study in biodiversity repositories. Consequently, conservation priorities are unclear. In this study we use mitochondrial and nuclear DNA to empirically infer geographic partitioning of genetic variation and to identify evolutionarily distinct lineages for conservation action. The distribution of Philippine tarsier genetic diversity is neither congruent with expectations based on biogeographical patterns documented in other Philippine vertebrates, nor does it agree with the most recent Philippine tarsier taxonomic arrangement. We identify three principal evolutionary lineages that do not correspond to the currently recognized subspecies, highlight the discovery of a novel cryptic and range-restricted subcenter of genetic variation in an unanticipated part of the archipelago, and identify additional geographically structured genetic variation that should be the focus of future studies and conservation action. Conservation of this flagship species necessitates establishment of protected areas and targeted conservation programs within the range of each genetically distinct variant of the Philippine tarsier.