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Keywords:

  • conservation genetics;
  • Gorilla gorilla diehli;
  • microsatellite genotyping;
  • migration;
  • noninvasive sampling;
  • population structure

Abstract

Recently developed methods of individual-based analysis of genetic data allow an unprecedented opportunity to understand the relationships among fragmented populations. By defining population structure and identifying migrant individuals, such analyses can provide a framework to aid in evaluating the threats posed by inbreeding and reduced genetic variability as a consequence of limited gene flow among fragments. Here we investigate population structure in the critically endangered Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) by applying a suite of individual-based analyses to data obtained from between one-quarter and one-third of the estimated total population through the use of noninvasively collected DNA samples. The population structure inferred using data from 11 autosomal microsatellite loci was broadly consistent with geography and habitat fragmentation, but showed no simple isolation-by-distance effects. In contrast to previous field surveys, which suggested that all gorilla localities were isolated from one another, we infer low levels of gene flow and identify migrants between habitat fragments as well as individuals of admixed ancestry, suggesting persistent recent reproductive contact between many of the localities. These results are encouraging for the conservation of the Cross River gorilla population. Conservation efforts should strive to maintain connectivity between subpopulations that are still in migratory contact and attempt to restore connectivity where it has been lost.