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J Hum Evol. 2006 May;50(5):509-22. Epub 2006 Feb 9.

Population history, biogeography, and taxonomy of orangutans (Genus: Pongo) based on a population genetic meta-analysis of multiple loci.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, Hunter College of the City University of New York, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA.


This paper examines orangutan population history and evolution through a meta-analysis of seven loci collected from both Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. Within orangutans, most loci show that the Sumatran population is about twice as diverse as the Bornean population. Orangutans are more diverse than African apes and humans. Sumatran and Bornean populations show significant genetic differentiation from one another and their history does not differ significantly from an 'island model' (population splitting without gene flow). Two different methods support a divergence of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans at 2.7-5 million years ago. This suggests that Pleistocene events, such as the cyclical exposure of the Sunda shelf and the Toba volcanic eruption, did not have a major impact on the divergence of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans. Pairwise mismatch analyses, however, suggest that Bornean orangutans have undergone a recent population expansion (beginning 39,000-64,000 years ago), while Sumatran orangutan populations were stable. Pleistocene events may have contributed to these aspects of orangutan population history. These conclusions are applied to the debate on orangutan taxonomy.

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