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Keywords:

  • Admixture;
  • developmental anomalies;
  • gene flow;
  • Gorilla beringei;
  • Gorilla gorilla;
  • heterosis;
  • supernumerary teeth;
  • vicariance

Molecular studies have demonstrated a deep lineage split between the two gorilla species, as well as divisions within these taxa; estimates place this divergence in the mid-Pleistocene, with gene flow continuing until approximately 80,000 years ago. Here, we present analyses of skeletal data indicating the presence of substantial recent gene flow among gorillas at all taxonomic levels: between populations, subspecies, and species. Complementary analyses of DNA sequence variation suggest that low-level migration occurred primarily in a westerly-to-easterly direction. In western gorillas, the locations of hybrid phenotypes map closely to expectations based on population refugia and riverine barrier hypotheses, supporting the presence of significant vicariance-driven structuring and occasional admixture within this taxon. In eastern lowland gorillas, the high frequency of hybrid phenotypes is surprising, suggesting that this region represents a zone of introgression between eastern gorillas and migrants from the west, and underscoring the conservation priority of this critically endangered group. These results highlight the complex nature of evolutionary divergence in this genus, indicate that historical gene flow has played a major role in structuring gorilla diversity, and demonstrate that our understanding of the evolutionary processes responsible for shaping biodiversity can benefit immensely from consideration of morphological and molecular data in conjunction.