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A new large-scale study revealed recent genetic connectivity between chimpanzee subspecies despite previous isolation events

Researchers from the Pan-African Program: Cultured Chimpanzee (PanAf) at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) and a team of international researchers collected more than 5,000 fecal samples from 55 sites in 18 countries across a population of chimpanzees over 8 years old. This is by far the most complete specimen of the species to date, with each sample having a known site of origin, thus addressing the sampling limitations of previous studies. “Gathering these samples was often a daunting task for our wonderful field teams. Almost all of the chimpanzees were uninhabited by human presence, so it took a lot of patience, skill and luck to find chimpanzee dung at every location,” explains Mimi Arangelovic, co-director of PanAf and lead author of the study.

Jack Lister, first author of the study, explains: “We have used rapidly evolving genetic markers that reflect the recent population history of the species, and in combination with extensive sampling across their range, we show that chimpanzee subspecies are related to, or, more likely, reconnected for long periods during the most recent. Extreme expansion of African forests. “

Therefore, although chimpanzees were separated into different subspecies in their distant past, prior to the emergence of recent human disturbances, the geographical barriers of the proposed subtype were permeable to chimpanzee dispersal. Paolo Graton, co-author of the study and researcher at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, adds: “It is widely believed that chimpanzees remained in forest shelter during glacial periods, which is likely responsible for isolating groups of populations that we are now known to be a subspecies. However, our results from the rapidly evolving DNA markers of small satellites indicate that genetic connectivity in recent millennia mainly reflects geographical distance and local factors, and conceals subdivisions of ancient subspecies.

Moreover, “these results indicate that the great behavioral diversity observed in chimpanzees is thus not due to local genetic adaptation, but rather that they depend on behavioral flexibility, much like humans, to respond to changes in their environment,” notes Hjalmar Koehl, co-director of PanAf. He is a researcher at the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv).

The team also noted signs of declining diversity in some sites that appeared to be linked to recent human pressures. In fact, in some locations, PanAf teams have not visited, or visited very few, chimpanzees, despite records of their presence over the past decades. “Although not anticipated, we were disappointed that we had already found the effect of human influences in some field locations where the genetic diversity was significantly less than we expected,” says Jack Lister.

These results highlight the importance of chimpanzees’ genetic connectivity in their recent history. “Every effort must be made to re-establish and maintain dispersal corridors across their range, with special attention to transnational protected areas,” notes Christoph Bosch, Co-Director of PanAf and Director of Wild Chimpanzee. Chimpanzees are known to be adaptable to human disturbances and can survive in human-modified landscapes, however, habitat loss, zoonotic diseases, and the bushmeat and pet trade are all threats to chimpanzee survival. These findings warn of future critical impacts on their genetic health and viability if habitat fragmentation and sequestration continues unabated.


Original post:

Jacques de Lister et al.

Modern genetic connectivity and clinical variation in chimpanzees

Communication BiologyMarch 5, 2021


Jack Lister

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig

+49 341 3550-262

[email protected]

Dr. Mimi Arangelovic

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig

+49 341 3550-239

[email protected]

Dr.. Hjalmar Kohl

German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) &

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig

+49 341 3550-236

[email protected]

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