The complex Y-chromosomal history of gorillas

Veronika Städele*, Mimi Arandjelovic, Stuart Nixon, Richard A. Bergl, Brenda J. Bradley, Thomas Breuer, Kenneth N. Cameron, Katerina Guschanski, Josephine Head, Jean C. Kyungu, Shelly Masi, David B. Morgan, Patricia Reed, Martha M. Robbins, Crickette Sanz, Vincent Smith, Emma J. Stokes, Olaf Thalmann, Angelique Todd, Linda Vigilant

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies of the evolutionary relationships among gorilla populations using autosomal and mitochondrial sequences suggest that male-mediated gene flow may have been important in the past, but data on the Y-chromosomal relationships among the gorilla subspecies are limited. Here, we genotyped blood and noninvasively collected fecal samples from 12 captives and 257 wild male gorillas of known origin representing all four subspecies (Gorilla gorilla gorilla, G. g. diehli, G. beringei beringei, and G. b. graueri) at 10 Y-linked microsatellite loci resulting in 102 unique Y-haplotypes for 224 individuals. We found that western lowland gorilla (G. g. gorilla) haplotypes were consistently more diverse than any other subspecies for all measures of diversity and comprised several genetically distinct groups. However, these did not correspond to geographical proximity and some closely related haplotypes were found several hundred kilometers apart. Similarly, our broad sampling of eastern gorillas revealed that mountain (G. b. beringei) and Grauer's (G. b. graueri) gorilla Y-chromosomal haplotypes did not form distinct clusters. These observations suggest structure in the ancestral population with subsequent mixing of differentiated haplotypes by male dispersal for western lowland gorillas, and postisolation migration or incomplete lineage sorting due to short divergence times for eastern gorillas.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23363
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number3
Early online date18 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • diversity
  • genetic distance
  • microsatellite
  • phylogeny
  • short tandem repeat


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