ALBANY, N.Y. (March 13, 2008) -- University at Albany Biological Sciences Professor Mary Katherine Gonder will study migration patterns and origins of chimpanzee populations in Africa with a more than $317,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. She will research the importance of the Sanaga River as a barrier to chimpanzee migration and compare genes of chimpanzees inhabiting the Gulf of Guinea area to chimpanzee populations from other African regions.
"Chimpanzees inhabiting the Gulf of Guinea region hold important clues for understanding the origins and diversification of chimpanzee populations all across the continent, but very little is known about chimpanzees inhabiting the region," said Gonder.
Genetic data already suggests that chimpanzees may be divided into two geographically defined groups -- a western African group and a central/eastern African group -- separated by the Sanaga River. This separation supports epidemiological and cultural differences between the two groups, including whether or not the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIVcpz) is present. The virus occurs naturally in chimpanzees inhabiting southern Cameroon, central Africa and eastern Africa, though not in chimpanzees north of the Sanaga River or in any other chimpanzees from western Africa.
For the research, Gonder and other scientists will track wild chimpanzees to their sleeping sites in the forests of Cameroon and Nigeria. After the chimpanzees abandon these sites, researchers will search their sleeping nests for samples of shed hair and dung, which are used as sources of DNA for genetic testing. Additionally, researchers are working with chimpanzee sanctuaries in Cameroon that shelter chimpanzees orphaned after their families were hunted, killed and sold as "bushmeat." Genetic data from these orphans will be compared to the samples collected from wild chimpanzees to understand the origins of the orphans.