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Chimpanzee Subspecies Share Genetic Link Despite Past Isolation Events, Study Finds

Chimpanzee subspecies share genetic link despite past isolation events | Image for representation | Credit: Reuters

Chimpanzee subspecies share genetic link despite past isolation events | Image for representation | Credit: Reuters

The study suggests during the glacial periods, the chimpanzees remained in forest refugia. This likely caused the isolation of various populations which we now recognise as ‘subspecies.’

The way we understand and differentiate species is mostly by genotypic and phenotypic variations, but also locations. However, a recent study reveals that despite isolation events in the past, there is a genetic link between multiple chimpanzee subspecies. It is being considered as one of the most exhaustive searches of its kind, where over 5,000 fecal samples from 55 sites in 18 countries across the chimpanzee range over 8 years were collected.

The teams involved were The Cultured Chimpanzee (PanAf) at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) along with individual international researchers.

It is a part of the Pan African Programme. Mimi Arandjelovic, co-director of the PanAf and senior author of the study called the sample collection an extremely daunting task.

“We used rapidly-evolving genetic markers that reflect the recent population history of species and, in combination with the dense sampling from across their range, we show that chimpanzee subspecies have been connected, or, more likely, reconnected, for extended periods during the most recent maximal expansion of African forests,” explained Jack Lester, first author of the study.

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Paolo Gratton, co-author of the study suggests during the glacial periods, the chimpanzees remained in forest refugia. This likely caused the isolation of various populations which we now recognise as ‘subspecies.’

Hjalmar Kuehl, co-director of the PanAf, also noted that “great behavioural diversity observed” in these animals is “not due to local genetic adaptation but that they rely on behavioural flexibility, much like humans, to respond to changes in their environment.”

The team were ‘disheartened’ to see that they could not find chimpanzees at locations that suggest healthy populations in the previous decades—an assign of their dwindling population and reduction in diversity.

Christophe Boesch, co-director of the PanAf and director of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, noted every effort needs to be focused on re-establishing dispersal corridors for the animals and the creation of trans-national protected areas.

The animal is under threat due to deforestation and habitat destruction, diseases, pet trades, and even bushmeat trade. If the fragmentation and isolation continue, there can be a serious threat to the species survival as a whole.

first published:March 07, 2021, 09:44 IST