Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

DNA solves mystery of Gibraltar’s macaques

26.04.2005


Research will help manage populations of macaques, a threatened species of primate


A Gibraltar macaque Photo by Robert D. Martin, Courtesy of The Field Museum


A Gibraltar macaque Photo by Robert D. Martin, Courtesy of The Field Museum



After decades of speculation, the origin of Gibraltar’s famous Barbary macaques has been determined. The only free-ranging monkeys in all of Europe, Gibraltar’s 200 or so semi-wild macaques enjoy the run of the hillsides in this British territory – much to the delight of millions of tourists, as well as to the chagrin of some officials responsible for their management.

There were not always, however, this many macaques on Gibraltar, which serves as a gateway to the Mediterranean Sea. In 1942, after the population dwindled to almost nothing, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered that their numbers be replenished due to a traditional belief that Britain would lose Gibraltar if the macaques there ever died out. The clandestine move was taken to bolster Britain’s morale during World War II. Ever since, scientists have wondered exactly where the macaques came from.


Now, an analysis of mitochondrial DNA from 280 individual samples reveals that the macaques on Gibraltar descended from founders taken from forest fragments in both Morocco and Algeria. The embargoed research will be published in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (http://www.pnas.org/papbyrecent.shtml) on April 25, 2005. It will appear subsequently in PNAS’ print version at a date yet to be determined.

"Our project was designed as a test case for conservation genetics," said Robert D. Martin, a primatologist, Field Museum Provost, and co-author of the study. "The Gibraltar colony of Barbary macaques provided an ideal example of genetic isolation of a small population, which is now a regular occurrence among wild primate populations because of forest fragmentation. To our surprise, we found a relatively high level of genetic variability in the Gibraltar macaques. This is now explained by our conclusion that the population was founded with individuals from two genetically distinct populations in Algeria and Morocco."

Key to study: mitochondrial DNA

In mammals, mitochondrial DNA is inherited exclusively from the female, so it can be analyzed to determine matrilineal origins. This is especially relevant with mammals, such as macaques, that practice female philopatry, a social system in which females remain in their birth groups while males migrate between groups.

The research first identified 24 different haplotypes in the Algerian and Moroccan colonies of macaques. Each mitochondrial haplotype is identified by means of a specific DNA sequence.

Since the Algerian and Moroccan haplotypes are clearly distinct, evidence of any given haplotype in the mitochondrial DNA of Gibraltar macaques would indicate that they descended from the geographical population with that haplotype. It had long been thought that the Gibraltar macaques were exclusively derived from founders imported from Morocco. In fact, both Algerian and Moroccan haplotypes were found among the Gibraltar macaques, indicating that the Gibraltar colony was founded by female macaques from both regions.

There are 19 species of macaques, which have proven to be remarkably adaptable. In fact, macaques are found in more climates and habitats than any other primate except, of course, humans.

The Barbary macaque, M. sylvanus, is the only species that lives naturally in Africa; all other species live in Asia. Some scientists believe the Barbary macaques were first brought to Gibraltar by the Moors, who occupied Spain between 711 and 1492. On the other hand, it’s possible that the original Gibraltar macaques were a remnant of populations that had spread throughout Southern Europe during the Pliocene, up to 5.5 million years ago.

About 20 years ago, scientists estimated there were 20,000 Barbary macaques in Africa. Today, the wild population is only half that number, which led the World Conservation Union in 2002 to include the Barbary macaque as "vulnerable" on its Red List of Threatened Species.

The research also indicated that the initial split between two main subgroups of M. sylvanus occurred about 1.6 million years ago. The other co-authors of the study are Lara Modolo at the Anthropological Institute of the University of Zurich in Switzerland, who conducted all of the laboratory work on the DNA samples, and Walter Salzburger at the University of Konstanz in Germany.

"Our findings reveal that the Algerian and Moroccan populations are genetically very distinct and that there are major genetic differences even within Algeria," Modolo said. "Mixing of founders from Algeria and Morocco explains why the Gibraltar macaques have kept a surprisingly high level of genetic variability despite a long period of isolation.

"At the same time, the large degree of genetic difference seen between various wild populations tells us that we should be cautious about translocating animals from one area to another," she added. "This is just one of the lessons for conservation biology to be learned from this study."

Greg Borzo | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.fieldmuseum.org

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Single-stranded DNA and RNA origami go live
15.12.2017 | Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard

nachricht New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists
15.12.2017 | Louisiana State University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>