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Inferring the Process of Human–Chimpanzee Speciation

  1. Thomas Mailund,
  2. Kasper Munch,
  3. Mikkel Heide Schierup

Published Online: 15 MAY 2014

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020833.pub2



How to Cite

Mailund, T., Munch, K. and Schierup, M. H. 2014. Inferring the Process of Human–Chimpanzee Speciation. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

  1. Based in part on the previous version of this eLS article ‘Inferring the Process of Human–Chimpanzee Speciation’ (2008) by K Ryo Takahasi and Hideki Innan.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 MAY 2014


Although the fossil record around the times of the key speciation events that splits humans from orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees is sparse, genetic comparisons of the extant apes enable us to analyse the process of speciation that lead to modern humans. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequencing technology has improved greatly over the last decade and the complete genomes of all great apes have now been mapped. Analysis of this rich data has enabled the inference of key parameters of their speciation events. Though inference of the speciation events has so far focussed on simple models it is an active area of research to develop better models and understand the processes involved in the speciation and divergence of the great apes. Of the speciations along the human lineage, the split between ourselves and our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees and bonobos, naturally receives special attention.

Key Concepts:

  • Population genetics modelling of speciation events informs us of the timing and mode of ancient speciations from present day genomic data.

  • A strong source of information about speciation is found in the changing gene trees along a genomic alignment.

  • By studying great ape genomes we learn about the speciations along the human lineage, where the human–chimpanzee speciation is of special interest.

  • It is still an open question if this speciation was a clean (allopatric) split or if occurred in the presence of gene flow or was followed by admixture events.

  • If the speciation happened in the presence of gene flow it might have left signals of which genes first became incompatible and drove the speciation.


  • coalescent;
  • genome;
  • hybridisation;
  • speciation;
  • speciation genes;
  • gene trees and species trees;
  • incomplete lineage sorting;
  • ancient gene flow