Genetic analysis suggests dispersal among chimpanzees in a fragmented forest landscape in Uganda

Maureen S. McCarthy, Jack D. Lester, Kevin Langergraber, Craig B. Stanford, Linda Vigilant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Habitat fragmentation is a leading threat to global biodiversity. Dispersal plays a key role in gene flow and population viability, but the impact of fragmentation on dispersal patterns remains poorly understood. Among chimpanzees, males typically remain in their natal communities while females often disperse. However, habitat loss and fragmentation may cause severe ecological disruptions, potentially resulting in decreased fitness benefits of male philopatry and limited female dispersal ability. To investigate this issue, we genotyped nearly 900 non-invasively collected chimpanzee fecal samples across a fragmented forest habitat that may function as a corridor between two large continuous forests in Uganda, and used the spatial associations among co-sampled genotypes to attribute a total of 229 individuals to 10 distinct communities, including 9 communities in the corridor habitat and 1 in continuous forest. We then used parentage analyses to infer instances of between-community dispersal. Of the 115 parent–offspring dyads detected with confidence, members of 39% (N = 26) of mother–daughter dyads were found in different communities, while members of 10% (N = 5) of father–son dyads were found in different communities. We also found direct evidence for one dispersal event that occurred during the study period, as a female's sample found first in one community was found multiple times in another community 19 months later. These findings suggest that even in fragmented habitats, chimpanzee males remain in their natal communities while females tend to disperse. Corridor enhancement in unprotected forest fragments could help maintain gene flow in chimpanzees and other species amid anthropogenic pressures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22902
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Pan troglodytes
  • chimpanzee
  • dispersal
  • ecological corridor
  • genetic tracking
  • habitat fragmentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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