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Mol Biol Evol. 2007 Jan;24(1):146-58. Epub 2006 Oct 25.

The complex evolutionary history of gorillas: insights from genomic data.

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Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.


Relatively little is known about the evolutionary and demographic histories of gorillas, one of our closest living relatives. In this study, we used samples from both western (Gorilla gorilla) and eastern (Gorilla beringei) gorillas to infer the timing of the split between these geographically disjunct populations and to elaborate the demographic history of gorillas. Here we present DNA sequences from 16 noncoding autosomal loci from 15 western gorillas and 3 eastern gorillas, including 2 noninvasively sampled free-ranging individuals. We find that the genetic diversity of gorillas is similar to that of chimpanzees but almost twice as high as that of bonobos and humans. A significantly positive Fu & Li's D was observed for western gorillas, suggesting a complex demographic history with a constant, long-term population size and ancestral population structure. Among different population-split scenarios, our data suggest a complex history of western and eastern gorillas including an initial population split at around 0.9-1.6 MYA and subsequent, primarily male-mediated gene flow until approximately 80,000-200,000 years ago. Furthermore, simulations revealed that more gene flow took place from eastern to western gorilla populations than vice versa.

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