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PLoS One. 2009 Dec 18;4(12):e8375. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008375.

How Ebola impacts genetics of Western lowland gorilla populations.

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UMR 6553 Ecobio, Université Rennes1/CNRS, Paimpont, France.



Emerging infectious diseases in wildlife are major threats for both human health and biodiversity conservation. Infectious diseases can have serious consequences for the genetic diversity of populations, which could enhance the species' extinction probability. The Ebola epizootic in western and central Africa induced more than 90% mortality in Western lowland gorilla population. Although mortality rates are very high, the impacts of Ebola on genetic diversity of Western lowland gorilla have never been assessed.


We carried out long term studies of three populations of Western lowland gorilla in the Republic of the Congo (Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Lossi gorilla sanctuary both affected by Ebola and Lossi's periphery not affected). Using 17 microsatellite loci, we compared genetic diversity and structure of the populations and estimate their effective size before and after Ebola outbreaks. Despite the effective size decline in both populations, we did not detect loss in genetic diversity after the epizootic. We revealed temporal changes in allele frequencies in the smallest population.


Immigration and short time elapsed since outbreaks could explain the conservation of genetic diversity after the demographic crash. Temporal changes in allele frequencies could not be explained by genetic drift or random sampling. Immigration from genetically differentiated populations and a non random mortality induced by Ebola, i.e., selective pressure and cost of sociality, are alternative hypotheses. Understanding the influence of Ebola on gorilla genetic dynamics is of paramount importance for human health, primate evolution and conservation biology.

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