Ice Ages and rivers may have affected gorilla diversification

December 10, 2007
Gorillas in the Lope National Park, Gabon
Gorillas in the Lope National Park, Gabon pictured by Dr. Kathryn Jeffery, director of the Gorilla and Chimpanzee Research Station in the Lope National Park. Credit: Dr. Kathryn Jeffery, Wildlife Conservation Society, Gabon

Geography and historical climate change may have both played a major role in gorilla evolutionary diversification, according to a new genetic study by Cardiff University and the University of New Orleans.

The collaborative School of Biosciences study shows that the genetic composition of gorilla populations varies across different parts of their current geographic range and that this variation may be tied to Ice Age climate change and river barriers.

Professor Mike Bruford, School of Biosciences said: “This wide ranging variation is a crucial consideration given the current catastrophic decline of great apes throughout Central Africa, current climate change patterns and the need to develop strategies to protect remaining populations from extinction.”

Using DNA data extracted from shed hair and faeces, the researchers found that regional differences in gorillas may have been shaped by Ice Age forest “refugia” that harboured remnants of suitable habitat and rivers that pose barriers to gorilla movement in the western Congo basin.

At high latitudes, expanding ice sheets forced some species into ice-free ‘refugia’ from which they evolved differences from one another. In contrast, the colder, drier climates experienced in the tropics led to the contraction of continuous forest into isolated pockets.

Geographic-based computer analyses also indicates that the genetic differences between gorilla populations is explained, in part, by the distance gorillas need to travel around river barriers, since in common with other large primates, they cannot cross large rivers.

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was carried out in collaboration with the Centre International de Recherches Medicales de Franceville (CIRMF), Gabon, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Source: Cardiff University

Explore further: Turning political pledges into action on climate change

Related Stories

Turning political pledges into action on climate change

October 7, 2015

In a previous life, Jo-Kristian Røttereng walked the rainforests of the Congo Basin, as a part of the Norwegian government's NOK 3 billion effort to curb tropical deforestation. He's seen the towering trees, heard the grunting ...

Glass has potential to be stronger, researchers say

September 21, 2012

(—Glass is strong enough for so much: windshields, buildings and many other things that need to handle high stress without breaking. But scientists who look at the structure of glass strictly by the numbers believe ...

Recommended for you

Team extends the lifetime of atoms using a mirror

October 13, 2015

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have succeeded in an experiment where they get an artificial atom to survive ten times longer than normal by positioning the atom in front of a mirror. The findings were recently ...

A particle purely made of nuclear force

October 13, 2015

Scientists at TU Wien (Vienna) have calculated that the meson f0(1710) could be a very special particle – the long-sought-after glueball, a particle composed of pure force.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.