Major aspects of lorisid phylogeny and systematics remain unresolved, despite several studies (involving morphology, histology, karyology, immunology, and DNA sequencing) aimed at elucidating them. Our study is the first to investigate the evolution of this enigmatic group using molecular and morphological data for all four well-established genera: Arctocebus, Loris, Nycticebus, and Perodicticus. Data sets consisting of 386 bp of 12S rRNA, 535 bp of 16S rRNA, and 36 craniodental characters were analyzed separately and in combination, using maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood. Outgroups, consisting of two galagid taxa (Otolemur and Galagoides) and a lemuroid (Microcebus), were also varied. The morphological data set yielded a paraphyletic lorisid clade with the robust Nycticebus and Perodicticus grouped as sister taxa, and the galagids allied with Arctocebus. All molecular analyses maximum parsimony (MP) or maximum likelihood (ML) which included Microcebus as an outgroup rendered a paraphyletic lorisid clade, with one exception: the 12S + 16S data set analyzed with ML. The position of the galagids in these paraphyletic topologies was inconsistent, however, and bootstrap values were low. Exclusion of Microcebus generated a monophyletic Lorisidae with Asian and African subclades; bootstrap values for all three clades in the total evidence tree were over 90%. We estimated mean genetic distances for lemuroids vs. lorisoids, lorisids vs. galagids, and Asian vs. African lorisids as a guide to relative divergence times. We present information regarding a temporary land bridge that linked the two now widely separated regions inhabited by lorisids that may explain their distribution. Finally, we make taxonomic recommendations based on our results.
Keywords: ribosomal mtDNA; craniodental morphology; phylogeny; biogeography; strepsirrhines