Significant loss of mitochondrial diversity within the last century due to extinction of peripheral populations in eastern gorillas

Tom Van Der Valk*, Edson Sandoval-Castellanos, Damien Caillaud, Urbain Ngobobo, Escobar Binyinyi, Radar Nishuli, Tara Stoinski, Emmanuel Gilissen, Gontran Sonet, Patrick Semal, Daniela C. Kalthoff, Love Dalén, Katerina Guschanski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Species and populations are disappearing at an alarming rate as a direct result of human activities. Loss of genetic diversity associated with population decline directly impacts species' long-term survival. Therefore, preserving genetic diversity is of considerable conservation importance. However, to assist in conservation efforts, it is important to understand how genetic diversity is spatially distributed and how it changes due to anthropogenic pressures. In this study, we use historical museum and modern faecal samples of two critically endangered eastern gorilla taxa, Grauer's (Gorilla beringei graueri) and mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), to directly infer temporal changes in genetic diversity within the last century. Using over 100 complete mitochondrial genomes, we observe a significant decline in haplotype and nucleotide diversity in Grauer's gorillas. By including historical samples from now extinct populations we show that this decline can be attributed to the loss of peripheral populations rather than a decrease in genetic diversity within the core range of the species. By directly quantifying genetic changes in the recent past, our study shows that human activities have severely impacted eastern gorilla genetic diversity within only four to five generations. This rapid loss calls for dedicated conservation actions, which should include preservation of the remaining peripheral populations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6551
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2018


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