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Barriers to chimpanzee gene flow at the south‐east edge of their distribution

Bonnin, Noémie; Piel, Alex K.; Brown, Richard P.; Li, Yingying; Connell, Andrew Jesse; Avitto, Alexa N.; Boubli, Jean P.; Chitayat, Adrienne; Giles, Jasmin; Gundlapally, Madhurima S.; Lipende, Iddi; Lonsdorf, Elizabeth V.; Mjungu, Deus; Mwacha, Dismas; Pintea, Lilian; Pusey, Anne E.; Raphael, Jane; Wich, Serge A.; Wilson, Michael L.; Wroblewski, Emily E.; Hahn, Beatrice H.; Stewart, Fiona A.

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Noémie Bonnin

Alex K. Piel

Richard P. Brown

Yingying Li

Andrew Jesse Connell

Alexa N. Avitto

Jean P. Boubli

Adrienne Chitayat

Jasmin Giles

Madhurima S. Gundlapally

Iddi Lipende

Elizabeth V. Lonsdorf

Deus Mjungu

Dismas Mwacha

Lilian Pintea

Anne E. Pusey

Jane Raphael

Serge A. Wich

Michael L. Wilson

Emily E. Wroblewski

Beatrice H. Hahn

Fiona A. Stewart


Populations on the edge of a species' distribution may represent an important source of adaptive diversity, yet these populations tend to be more fragmented and are more likely to be geographically isolated. Lack of genetic exchanges between such populations, due to barriers to animal movement, can not only compromise adaptive potential but also lead to the fixation of deleterious alleles. The south‐eastern edge of chimpanzee distribution is particularly fragmented, and conflicting hypotheses have been proposed about population connectivity and viability. To address this uncertainty, we generated both mitochondrial and MiSeq‐based microsatellite genotypes for 290 individuals ranging across western Tanzania. While shared mitochondrial haplotypes confirmed historical gene flow, our microsatellite analyses revealed two distinct clusters, suggesting two populations currently isolated from one another. However, we found evidence of high levels of gene flow maintained within each of these clusters, one of which covers an 18,000 km2 ecosystem. Landscape genetic analyses confirmed the presence of barriers to gene flow with rivers and bare habitats highly restricting chimpanzee movement. Our study demonstrates how advances in sequencing technologies, combined with the development of landscape genetics approaches, can resolve ambiguities in the genetic history of critical populations and better inform conservation efforts of endangered species.


Bonnin, N., Piel, A. K., Brown, R. P., Li, Y., Connell, A. J., Avitto, A. N., …Stewart, F. A. (2023). Barriers to chimpanzee gene flow at the south‐east edge of their distribution. Molecular Ecology,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 2, 2023
Online Publication Date Jun 5, 2023
Publication Date Jun 5, 2023
Deposit Date Jun 8, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jun 8, 2023
Journal Molecular Ecology
Print ISSN 0962-1083
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords great apes, biogeography, mitochondrial DNA, microsatellites, genetic diversity, Tanzania


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