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Rivers influence the population genetic structure of bonobos (Pan paniscus)


L. Vigilant. Fax: + 49 341 3550299; E-mail:


Bonobos are large, highly mobile primates living in the relatively undisturbed, contiguous forest south of the Congo River. Accordingly, gene flow among populations is assumed to be extensive, but may be impeded by large, impassable rivers. We examined mitochondrial DNA control region sequence variation in individuals from five distinct localities separated by rivers in order to estimate relative levels of genetic diversity and assess the extent and pattern of population genetic structure in the bonobo. Diversity estimates for the bonobo exceed those for humans, but are less than those found for the chimpanzee. All regions sampled are significantly differentiated from one another, according to genetic distances estimated as pairwise FSTs, with the greatest differentiation existing between region East and each of the two Northern populations (N and NE) and the least differentiation between regions Central and South. The distribution of nucleotide diversity shows a clear signal of population structure, with some 30% of the variance occurring among geographical regions. However, a geographical patterning of the population structure is not obvious. Namely, mitochondrial haplotypes were shared among all regions excepting the most eastern locality and the phylogenetic analysis revealed a tree in which haplotypes were intermixed with little regard to geographical origin, with the notable exception of the close relationships among the haplotypes found in the east. Nonetheless, genetic distances correlated with geographical distances when the intervening distances were measured around rivers presenting effective current–day barriers, but not when straight-line distances were used, suggesting that rivers are indeed a hindrance to gene flow in this species.