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 Bioenergy cropland expansion could be as bad for biodiversity as climate change
11.12.2018 | Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseen

nachricht How glial cells develop in the brain from neural precursor cells
11.12.2018 | Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Researchers develop method to transfer entire 2D circuits to any smooth surface

What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.

Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...

Im Focus: Three components on one chip

Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.

Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...

Im Focus: Substitute for rare earth metal oxides

New Project SNAPSTER: Novel luminescent materials by encapsulating phosphorescent metal clusters with organic liquid crystals

Nowadays energy conversion in lighting and optoelectronic devices requires the use of rare earth oxides.

Im Focus: A bit of a stretch... material that thickens as it's pulled

Scientists have discovered the first synthetic material that becomes thicker - at the molecular level - as it is stretched.

Researchers led by Dr Devesh Mistry from the University of Leeds discovered a new non-porous material that has unique and inherent "auxetic" stretching...

Im Focus: The force of the vacuum

Scientists from the Theory Department of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) in Hamburg have shown through theoretical calculations and computer simulations that the force between electrons and lattice distortions in an atomically thin two-dimensional superconductor can be controlled with virtual photons. This could aid the development of new superconductors for energy-saving devices and many other technical applications.

The vacuum is not empty. It may sound like magic to laypeople but it has occupied physicists since the birth of quantum mechanics.

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

Expert Panel on the Future of HPC in Engineering

03.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Some brain tumors may respond to immunotherapy, new study suggests

11.12.2018 | Studies and Analyses

Researchers image atomic structure of important immune regulator

11.12.2018 | Health and Medicine

Physicists edge closer to controlling chemical reactions

11.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>