Chimpanzees inhabit the savannah and forest of tropical Africa. The climate and geographical area where they live have made difficult the preservation of ancient populations fossil record, in contrast to the many hominid sites preserved to this day – mainly in caves and temperate climates. Given the absence of chimpanzee fossils, the genetic information of today’s populations becomes crucial to describe their evolutionary history, their genetic diversity and finally to contribute to their preservation.
Our team together with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, has built the most extensive catalog of genomic diversity in wild chimpanzee populations to date. Genetic information has been retrieved non-invasively using new technologies, from hundreds of geolocated chimpanzee fecal samples. For the first time, methods applied to analyze ancient DNA in human populations have been used to retrieve genetic information from fecal samples in the study of great apes. The genomic tool they have developed will have direct applications for the conservation of chimpanzees, such as detecting poaching hotspots and identifying illegal trafficking routes to protect this endangered species.