New Genetic Evidence on the Evolution of Chimpanzee Populations and Implications for Taxonomy

  • Mary Katherine Gonder
  • Todd R. Disotell
  • John F. Oates

Primatologists widely recognize chimpanzees as belonging to a single species, Pan troglodytes, which they traditionally have further divided into 3 subspecies: west African P. t. verus, central African P. t. troglodytes, and east African P. t. schweinfurthii. Previously, we suggested that the phylogeographic history of chimpanzees may be different from that implied by the widely used taxonomy of the species. We based the suggestion on only a limited sample of haplotypes from the first hypervariable region (HVRI) of mitochondrial (mt)DNA from chimpanzees in Nigeria. We have now compiled a more geographically comprehensive genetic database for chimpanzees, including samples obtained near the Niger and Sanaga Rivers. Our database is composed of 254 HVRI haplotypes from chimpanzees of known geographic origin, including 79 unique HVRI haplotypes from chimpanzees living in Nigeria and Cameroon. The genetic data provide clear evidence that a major phylogeographic break between chimpanzee lineages occurs near the Sanaga River in central Cameroon and suggest the need for a reclassification of chimpanzees.

Key words:

chimpanzees chimpanzee subspecies mtDNA phylogeography population structure 



We thank the federal governments of Cameroon and Nigeria; the state governments of Cross River, Ondo, and Ekiti in Nigeria; the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, the Pandrillus Foundation; Pronatura International (Nigeria); the Wildlife Conservation Society; and the World Wide Fund for Nature for their support during sample collection in Cameroon and Nigeria by M. K. Gonder. We also thank 3 anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on the manuscript. The L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, Primate Conservation, Inc., the National Science Foundation (Dissertation Improvement Award, Graduate Research Fellowship, and NYCEP Research Training Grant), and the Wenner-Gren Foundation supported the research. We exported all samples from Africa under CITES exportation permits (Cameroon: 0172/PE/MINEF/DFAP/SL/SLP; Nigeria: FEPA/LSN/68/T/39) and imported them under U.S. CITES (US810330) and USDA (97-418-2) importation permits.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Katherine Gonder
    • 1
    • 2
  • Todd R. Disotell
    • 3
  • John F. Oates
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology, Hunter College and Graduate CenterCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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