Socioecology and conservation of eastern lowland gorillas: Genetic approach and local organization acts

Dr Miki Matsubara

Saturday, 22 February 2003; 7:30-9:30pm

Keynes Hall, King's College

Maintenance of genetic diversity is of critical importance for the survival of captive and wild populations. For breeding programmes theoretical models have proposed that it is necessary to maintain the allelic diversity of genes known to be under balancing selection. In vertebrates balancing selection operates in the case of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC). The MHC plays a crucial role in mediating the immune response and consequently it is unsurprising that the MHC should be associated with higher susceptibility to pathogens in both wild and captive populations. The MHC class II DRB, second exon, is characterized by extensive degree of allelic polymorpohism and is composed of four functional loci. Maintenance of MHC polymorphism therefore increases the chance of population survival. Additionally, low MHC variability is also associated with inbreeding depression and deleterious effects during early pregnancy. Maintaining high polymorphism might therefore directly effect breeding success. More recently research has shown that MHC haplotype may correlate with mate choice, reproductive success and kin recognition. Maintenance of high genetic polymorphism of these loci is necessary for the survival of both wild and captive populations.
The aims of this research are:
1. An assessment of the genetic variability of MHC loci from wild eastern lowland gorillas from Kahuzi-Biega National Park, D. R. C.
2. Comparative study of the degree of MHC variability between generations and sexes. 3. To investigate the relationship between the MHC haplotypes and female mate choice in the wild eastern lowland gorillas.
4. To use MHC profiling to estimate kin-relationship between juveniles and silverback males. Interestingly, over the 25 years of study in this field site, infanticide by silverback males has not been observed when females or new silverback males immigrated into new groups.
I will explain our research projects and the life of gorillas, and introduce non-governmental organization acts to conserve the habitat of gorillas by local people.