Complete mitochondrial genome sequence of the Eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) and implications for african ape biogeography.
ABSTRACT: The Western and Eastern species of gorillas (Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei) began diverging in the mid-Pleistocene, but in a complex pattern with ongoing gene flow following their initial split. We sequenced the complete mitochondrial genomes of 1 Eastern and 1 Western gorilla to provide the most accurate date for their mitochondrial divergence, and to analyze patterns of nucleotide substitutions. The most recent common ancestor of these genomes existed about 1.9 million years ago, slightly more recent than that of chimpanzee and bonobo. We in turn use this date as a calibration to reanalyze sequences from the Eastern lowland and mountain gorilla subspecies to estimate their mitochondrial divergence at approximately 380000 years ago. These dates help frame a hypothesis whereby populations became isolated nearly 2 million years ago with restricted maternal gene flow, followed by ongoing male migration until the recent past. This process of divergence with prolonged hybridization occurred against the backdrop of the African Pleistocene, characterized by intense fluctuations in temperature and aridity, while at the same time experiencing tectonic uplifting and consequent shifts in the drainage of major river systems. Interestingly, this same pattern of introgression following divergence and discrepancies between mitochondrial and nuclear loci is seen in fossil hominins from Eurasia, suggesting that such processes may be common in hominids and that living gorillas may provide a useful model for understanding isolation and migration in our extinct relatives.
Project description:The role of Pleistocene forest refugia and rivers in the evolutionary diversification of tropical biota has been the subject of considerable debate. A range-wide analysis of gorilla mitochondrial and nuclear variation was used to test the potential role of both refugia and rivers in shaping genetic diversity in current populations. Results reveal strong patterns of regional differentiation that are consistent with refugial hypotheses for central Africa. Four major mitochondrial haplogroups are evident with the greatest divergence between eastern (A, B) and western (C, D) gorillas. Coalescent simulations reject a model of recent east-west separation during the last glacial maximum but are consistent with a divergence time within the Pleistocene. Microsatellite data also support a similar regional pattern of population genetic structure. Signatures of demographic expansion were detected in eastern lowland (B) and Gabon/Congo (D3) mitochondrial haplogroups and are consistent with a history of postglacial expansion from formerly isolated refugia. Although most mitochondrial haplogroups are regionally defined, limited admixture is evident between neighboring haplogroups. Mantel tests reveal a significant isolation-by-distance effect among western lowland gorilla populations. However, mitochondrial genetic distances also correlate with the distance required to circumnavigate intervening rivers, indicating a possible role for rivers in partitioning gorilla genetic diversity. Comparative data are needed to evaluate the importance of both mechanisms of vicariance in other African rainforest taxa.
Project description:Compared with other African apes, eastern gorillas (Gorilla beringei) have been little studied genetically. We used analysis of autosomal DNA genotypes obtained from non-invasively collected faecal samples to estimate the evolutionary histories of the two extant mountain gorilla populations and the closely related eastern lowland gorillas. Our results suggest that eastern lowland gorillas and mountain gorillas split beginning some 10 000 years ago, followed 5000 years ago by the split of the two mountain gorilla populations of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virungas Massif. All three populations have decreased in effective population size, with particularly substantial 10-fold decreases for the mountain gorillas. These dynamics probably reflect responses to habitat changes resulting from climate fluctuations over the past 20 000 years as well as increasing human influence in this densely populated region in the last several thousand years.
Project description:Grauer's gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), the World's largest primate, is confined to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and is threatened by civil war and insecurity. During the war, armed groups in mining camps relied on hunting bushmeat, including gorillas. Insecurity and the presence of several militia groups across Grauer's gorilla's range made it very difficult to assess their population size. Here we use a novel method that enables rigorous assessment of local community and ranger-collected data on gorilla occupancy to evaluate the impacts of civil war on Grauer's gorilla, which prior to the war was estimated to number 16,900 individuals. We show that gorilla numbers in their stronghold of Kahuzi-Biega National Park have declined by 87%. Encounter rate data of gorilla nests at 10 sites across its range indicate declines of 82-100% at six of these sites. Spatial occupancy analysis identifies three key areas as the most critical sites for the remaining populations of this ape and that the range of this taxon is around 19,700 km2. We estimate that only 3,800 Grauer's gorillas remain in the wild, a 77% decline in one generation, justifying its elevation to Critically Endangered status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Project description:Gorillas are humans' closest living relatives after chimpanzees, and are of comparable importance for the study of human origins and evolution. Here we present the assembly and analysis of a genome sequence for the western lowland gorilla, and compare the whole genomes of all extant great ape genera. We propose a synthesis of genetic and fossil evidence consistent with placing the human-chimpanzee and human-chimpanzee-gorilla speciation events at approximately 6 and 10 million years ago. In 30% of the genome, gorilla is closer to human or chimpanzee than the latter are to each other; this is rarer around coding genes, indicating pervasive selection throughout great ape evolution, and has functional consequences in gene expression. A comparison of protein coding genes reveals approximately 500 genes showing accelerated evolution on each of the gorilla, human and chimpanzee lineages, and evidence for parallel acceleration, particularly of genes involved in hearing. We also compare the western and eastern gorilla species, estimating an average sequence divergence time 1.75 million years ago, but with evidence for more recent genetic exchange and a population bottleneck in the eastern species. The use of the genome sequence in these and future analyses will promote a deeper understanding of great ape biology and evolution.
Project description:Infectious diseases represent the greatest threats to endangered species, and transmission from humans to wildlife under increased anthropogenic pressure has been always stated as a major risk of habituation.To evaluate the impact of close contact with humans on the occurrence of potentially zoonotic protists in great apes, one hundred mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) from seven groups habituated either for tourism or for research in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda were screened for the presence of microsporidia, Cryptosporidium spp. and Giardia spp. using molecular diagnostics.The most frequently detected parasites were Enterocytozoon bieneusi found in 18 samples (including genotype EbpA, D, C, gorilla 2 and five novel genotypes gorilla 4-8) and Encephalitozoon cuniculi with genotype II being more prevalent (10 cases) compared to genotype I (1 case). Cryptosporidium muris (2 cases) and C. meleagridis (2 cases) were documented in great apes for the first time. Cryptosporidium sp. infections were identified only in research groups and occurrence of E. cuniculi in research groups was significantly higher in comparison to tourist groups. No difference in prevalence of E. bieneusi was observed between research and tourist groups.Although our data showed the presence and diversity of important opportunistic protists in Volcanoes gorillas, the source and the routes of the circulation remain unknown. Repeated individual sampling, broad sampling of other hosts sharing the habitat with gorillas and quantification of studied protists would be necessary to acquire more complex data.
Project description:Conservation efforts have led to the recovery of the endangered mountain gorilla populations. Due to their limited potential for spatial expansion, population densities increased, which may alter the epidemiology of infectious diseases. Recently, clinical gastrointestinal illnesses linked to helminth infections have been recorded in both gorilla populations. To understand drivers and patterns of helminth infections we quantified strongylid and tapeworm infections across both Virunga Massif and Bwindi populations using fecal egg counts. We assessed the impact of age, sex, group size, season and spatial differences used as a proxy, which reflects observed variation in the occurrence of gastrointestinal problems, vegetation types, gorilla subpopulation growth and associated social structure on helminth infections. We revealed striking geographic differences in strongylid infections with higher egg counts mostly in areas with high occurrences of gastrointestinal disease. Increased helminth egg counts were also associated with decreasing group size in some areas. Observed spatial differences may reflect mutual effects of variations in subpopulation growth rates, gorilla social structure, and vegetation associated with altitude across mountain gorilla habitat. Helminth infection intensities in Virunga gorillas were lowest in the youngest and the oldest animals. Elucidating parasite infection patterns of endangered species with low genetic diversity is crucial for their conservation management.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Today many large mammals live in small, fragmented populations, but it is often unclear whether this subdivision is the result of long-term or recent events. Demographic modeling using genetic data can estimate changes in long-term population sizes while temporal sampling provides a way to compare genetic variation present today with that sampled in the past. In order to better understand the dynamics associated with the divergences of great ape populations, these analytical approaches were applied to western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) and in particular to the isolated and Critically Endangered Cross River gorilla subspecies (G. g. diehli). RESULTS: We used microsatellite genotypes from museum specimens and contemporary samples of Cross River gorillas to infer both the long-term and recent population history. We find that Cross River gorillas diverged from the ancestral western gorilla population ~17,800 years ago (95% HDI: 760, 63,245 years). However, gene flow ceased only ~420 years ago (95% HDI: 200, 16,256 years), followed by a bottleneck beginning ~320 years ago (95% HDI: 200, 2,825 years) that caused a 60-fold decrease in the effective population size of Cross River gorillas. Direct comparison of heterozygosity estimates from museum and contemporary samples suggests a loss of genetic variation over the last 100 years. CONCLUSIONS: The composite history of western gorillas could plausibly be explained by climatic oscillations inducing environmental changes in western equatorial Africa that would have allowed gorilla populations to expand over time but ultimately isolate the Cross River gorillas, which thereafter exhibited a dramatic population size reduction. The recent decrease in the Cross River population is accordingly most likely attributable to increasing anthropogenic pressure over the last several hundred years. Isolation of diverging populations with prolonged concomitant gene flow, but not secondary admixture, appears to be a typical characteristic of the population histories of African great apes, including gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.
Project description:Numts are nonfunctional mitochondrial sequences that have translocated into nuclear DNA, where they evolve independently from the original mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence. Numts can be unintentionally amplified in addition to authentic mtDNA, complicating both the analysis and interpretation of mtDNA-based studies. Amplification of numts creates particular issues for studies on the noncoding, hypervariable 1 mtDNA region of gorillas. We provide data on putative numt sequences of the coding mitochondrial gene cytochrome oxidase subunit II (COII). Via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and cloning, we obtained COII sequences for gorilla, orangutan, and human high-quality DNA and also from a gorilla fecal DNA sample. Both gorilla and orangutan samples yielded putative numt sequences. Phylogenetically more anciently transferred numts were amplified with a greater incidence from the gorilla fecal DNA sample than from the high-quality gorilla sample. Data on phylogenetically more recently transferred numts are equivocal. We further demonstrate the need for additional investigations into the use of mtDNA markers for noninvasively collected samples from gorillas and other primates.
Project description:Humans were once considered unique in having a concept of death but a growing number of observations of animal responses to dying and dead conspecifics suggests otherwise. Complex arrays of behaviors have been described ranging from corpse removal and burial among social insects to quiet attendance and caregiving among elephants and primates. Less frequently described, however, are behavioral responses of individuals from different age/sex classes or social position toward the death of conspecifics. We describe behavioral responses of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) to the deaths of a dominant silverback and a dominant adult female from the same social group in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the responses of Grauer's gorillas (Gorilla b. graueri) to the corpse of an extra-group silverback in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. In gorillas, interactions between groups or with a lone silverback often result in avoidance or aggression. We predicted that: (i) more individuals should interact with the corpses of same-group members than with the corpse of the extra-group silverback; (ii) adult females with infants should avoid the corpse of the extra-group silverback; and (iii) in the mountain gorilla cases, individuals that shared close social relationships with the dead individual should spend more time with the corpse than other individuals in the group. We used a combination of detailed qualitative reports, photos, and videos to describe all occurrences of affiliative/investigative and agonistic behaviors observed at the corpses. We observed similar responses toward the corpses of group and extra-group individuals. Animals in all three cases showed a variety of affiliative/investigative and agonistic behaviors directed to the corpses. Animals of all age/sex classes interacted with the corpses in affiliative/investigative ways but there was a notable absence of all adult females at the corpse of the extra-group silverback. In all three cases, we observed only silverbacks and blackbacks being agonistic around and/or toward the corpses. In the mountain gorilla cases, the individuals who spent the most time with the corpses were animals who shared close social relationships with the deceased. We emphasize the similarity in the behavioral responses around the corpses of group and extra-group individuals, and suggest that the behavioral responses were influenced in part by close social relationships between the deceased and certain group members and by a general curiosity about death. We further discuss the implications close interactions with corpses have for disease transmission within and between gorilla social groups.
Project description:Although population-level genomic sequence data have been gathered extensively for humans, similar data from our closest living relatives are just beginning to emerge. Examination of genomic variation within great apes offers many opportunities to increase our understanding of the forces that have differentially shaped the evolutionary history of hominid taxa. Here, we expand upon the work of the Great Ape Genome Project by analyzing medium to high coverage whole-genome sequences from 14 western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), 2 eastern lowland gorillas (G. beringei graueri), and a single Cross River individual (G. gorilla diehli). We infer that the ancestors of western and eastern lowland gorillas diverged from a common ancestor approximately 261 ka, and that the ancestors of the Cross River population diverged from the western lowland gorilla lineage approximately 68 ka. Using a diffusion approximation approach to model the genome-wide site frequency spectrum, we infer a history of western lowland gorillas that includes an ancestral population expansion of 1.4-fold around 970 ka and a recent 5.6-fold contraction in population size 23 ka. The latter may correspond to a major reduction in African equatorial forests around the Last Glacial Maximum. We also analyze patterns of variation among western lowland gorillas to identify several genomic regions with strong signatures of recent selective sweeps. We find that processes related to taste, pancreatic and saliva secretion, sodium ion transmembrane transport, and cardiac muscle function are overrepresented in genomic regions predicted to have experienced recent positive selection.