How different are robust and gracile capuchin monkeys? An argument for the use of sapajus and cebus

Am J Primatol. 2012 Apr;74(4):273-86. doi: 10.1002/ajp.22007. Epub 2012 Feb 10.


Capuchin monkey behavior has been the focus of increasing numbers of captive and field studies in recent years, clarifying behavioral and ecological differences between the two morphological types: the gracile and the robust capuchins (also referred to as untufted and tufted). Studies have tended to focus on the gracile species Cebus capucinus (fewer data are available for C. albifrons, C. olivaceus, and C. kaapori) and on Cebus apella, a name that has encompassed all of the robust capuchins since the 1960s. As a result, it is difficult to ascertain the variation within either gracile or robust types. The phylogenetic relationships between gracile and robust capuchins have also, until now, remained obscure. Recent studies have suggested two independent Pliocene radiations of capuchins stemming from a common ancestor in the Late Miocene, about 6.2 millions of years ago (Ma). The present-day gracile capuchins most likely originated in the Amazon, and the robust capuchins in the Atlantic Forest to the southeast. Sympatry between the two types is explained by a recent expansion of robust capuchins into the Amazon (ca. 400,000 years ago). Morphological data also support a division of capuchins into the same two distinct groups, and we propose the division of capuchin monkeys into two genera, Sapajus Kerr, 1792, for robust capuchins and Cebus Erxleben, 1777, for gracile capuchins, based on a review of extensive morphological, genetic, behavioral, ecological, and biogeographic evidence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Cebus / anatomy & histology
  • Cebus / classification*
  • Cebus / physiology
  • Cebus / psychology
  • Classification
  • Phylogeny
  • South America
  • Species Specificity