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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2015 Feb;156(2):181-91. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22638. Epub 2014 Oct 20.

The sampling scheme matters: Pan troglodytes troglodytes and P. t. schweinfurthii are characterized by clinal genetic variation rather than a strong subspecies break.

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Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103, Leipzig, Germany.


Populations of an organism living in marked geographical or evolutionary isolation from other populations of the same species are often termed subspecies and expected to show some degree of genetic distinctiveness. The common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) is currently described as four geographically delimited subspecies: the western (P. t. verus), the nigerian-cameroonian (P. t. ellioti), the central (P. t. troglodytes) and the eastern (P. t. schweinfurthii) chimpanzees. Although these taxa would be expected to be reciprocally monophyletic, studies have not always consistently resolved the central and eastern chimpanzee taxa. Most studies, however, used data from individuals of unknown or approximate geographic provenance. Thus, genetic data from samples of known origin may shed light on the evolutionary relationship of these subspecies. We generated microsatellite genotypes from noninvasively collected fecal samples of 185 central chimpanzees that were sampled across large parts of their range and analyzed them together with 283 published eastern chimpanzee genotypes from known localities. We observed a clear signal of isolation by distance across both subspecies. Further, we found that a large proportion of comparisons between groups taken from the same subspecies showed higher genetic differentiation than the least differentiated between-subspecies comparison. This proportion decreased substantially when we simulated a more clumped sampling scheme by including fewer groups. Our results support the general concept that the distribution of the sampled individuals can dramatically affect the inference of genetic population structure. With regard to chimpanzees, our results emphasize the close relationship of equatorial chimpanzees from central and eastern equatorial Africa and the difficult nature of subspecies definitions.


genetic differentiation; genotyping; isolation by distance; microsatellites; structure

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