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Ice Ages and rivers may have affected gorilla diversification

10 December 2007

US journal embargo: Not for publication before 10pm GMT December 10

Geography and historical climate change may have both played a major role in gorilla evolutionary diversification, according to a new genetic study by Cardiff University and the University of New Orleans.

The collaborative School of Biosciences study shows that the genetic composition of gorilla populations varies across different parts of their current geographic range and that this variation may be tied to Ice Age climate change and river barriers.

Professor Mike Bruford, School of Biosciences said: "This wide ranging variation is a crucial consideration given the current catastrophic decline of great apes throughout Central Africa, current climate change patterns and the need to develop strategies to protect remaining populations from extinction."

Using DNA data extracted from shed hair and faeces, the researchers found that regional differences in gorillas may have been shaped by Ice Age forest "refugia" that harboured remnants of suitable habitat and rivers that pose barriers to gorilla movement in the western Congo basin.

At high latitudes, expanding ice sheets forced some species into ice-free ‘refugia’ from which they evolved differences from one another. In contrast, the colder, drier climates experienced in the tropics led to the contraction of continuous forest into isolated pockets.

Geographic-based computer analyses also indicates that the genetic differences between gorilla populations is explained, in part, by the distance gorillas need to travel around river barriers, since in common with other large primates, they cannot cross large rivers.

The study published in the journal PNSA [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] was carried out in collaboration with the Centre International de Recherches Medicales de Franceville (CIRMF), Gabon, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

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BIOSI10 gorillas

Notes to Editors:

1. Pictures to accompany the story are available from the Public Relations Office: 029 20874499. The paper "The role of Pleistocene refugia and rivers in shaping gorilla genetic diversity in central Africa" is published online Monday December 10 and in the print edition of the journal PNSA [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] December 18.

2.Cardiff School of Biosciences

The Cardiff School of Biosciences addresses the major biological questions which face health and life scientists. The major research areas of the School are: biodiversity and ecology, connective tissue biology, environmental biochemistry and microbiology, mammalian genetics, molecular enzymology and entomology, and neuroscience cell biology. The School also houses the Common Cold Centre, the world’s only centre dedicated to researching and testing new medicines for treatment of the symptoms of flu and the common cold.

3.Cardiff University

Cardiff University Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, the University today combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff is a member of the Russell Group of Britain’s leading research universities.

Visit the University website at: www.cardiff.ac.uk

Further Information:

For more information, please contact:

Professor Mike Bruford
Professor of Biodiversity
Cardiff School of Biosciences
Cardiff University
Tel: (0)29 20 874312
Mobile : 07894 228870
Email: BrufordMW@cardiff.ac.uk

http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/biosi/research/biodiversity/staff/mb.html

Emma Darling
Public Relations Office,
Cardiff University.
Tel: 029 2087 4499
Email: DarlingEL@cardiff.ac.uk