Gorillas are starting to develop webbed feet
December 30, 2018 | 6 comments
Some gorilla populations are in danger of being wiped out. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.6 Kabir
An ever-shrinking gene pool due to population decline has been producing some unexpected mutations.
The critically endangered eastern lowland (or Grauer's) gorilla in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has experienced such a heavy decline in numbers over the years that inbreeding has become a very real concern, resulting in genetic problems ranging from fertility issues to webbed feet.
In a recent study, researchers compared the DNA of wild Grauer's gorillas with that of museum specimens and discovered a sharp and worrying decline in genetic diversity over the last few years.
"This recent increase in harmful mutations really emphasizes the need to reverse the ongoing population decline in Grauer's gorillas," said study co-author Professor Love Dalen.
Interestingly, a similar study of the closely related mountain gorilla found no such issue - possibly due to the fact that mountain gorilla populations have been relatively low for a long time whereas Grauer's gorillas have suffered declining numbers only recently.
Conservation efforts have also seen a slight increase in mountain gorilla populations.
It is believed that this stability has helped them to gradually weed out any harmful mutations.
"Our study highlights that historical museum specimens constitute a unique resource for monitoring recent changes in the genetic status of endangered species," said Professor Katerina Guschanski.
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