Using genetics to understand the dynamics of wild primate populations

Linda Vigilant, K Guschanski

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


While much can be learned about primates by means of observation, the slow life history of many primates means that even decades of dedicated effort cannot illuminate long-term evolutionary processes. For example, while the size of a contemporary population can be estimated from field censuses, it is often desirable to know whether a population has been constant or changing in size over a time frame of hundreds or thousands of years. Even the nature of ‘‘a population’’ is open to question, and the extent to which individuals successfully disperse among defined populations is also difficult to estimate by using observational methods alone. Researchers have thus turned to genetic methods to examine the size, structure, and evolutionary histories of primate populations. Many results have been gained by study of sequence variation of maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA, but in recent years researchers have been increasingly focusing on analysis of short, highly variable microsatellite segments in the autosomal genome for a high-resolution view of evolutionary processes involving both sexes. In this review we describe some of the insights thus gained, and discuss the likely impact on this field of new technologies such as high-throughput DNA sequencing
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-120
Number of pages16
Early online date28 Jan 2009
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2009


  • genotyping
  • molecular
  • noninvasive samples
  • DNA sequences
  • population


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