Museum für Naturkunde
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam
GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
Alfred Wegener Institute's research centre in Potsdam
Starting date: 1st December 2016
International Partners: Dr. Jesus Maldonado (Smithsonian Institution, USA), Dr. Michael Campana (Smithsonian Institution, USA), Dr. Molly McDonough (Smithsonian Institution, USA), Dr. Rick Potts (Smithsonian Institution, USA), Dr. Casim Umba Tolo (Mbarara University, Uganda), Dr. John Bosco Nkurunungi (Mbarara University, Uganda)
Project: First time ancient DNA analysis of mountain gorillas: linking biotic response to past climatic variations, extensional tectonism and Earth-surface processes in an African biodiversity hotspot
The rainforests along the Albertine Rift - the western branch of the East African Rift System - are among the most diverse regions on Earth, but the processes of diversification during the Quaternary remain rather inconclusive. Some of these hyperdiverse forests are thought to represent Pleistocene refugia where forest-adapted species such as gorillas could have survived when dry climatic phases led to widespread forest contraction. However, it remains to be tested whether the Albertine Rift was always covered with rainforests during the Late Quaternary and whether gorillas and other forest species occurred in their present ranges permanently or only episodically. The project will reconstruct paleoenvironmental conditions such as rainforest history and climate dynamics from sediment cores from a presumed rainforest refugium in Uganda. We aim at testing the long-term presence of gorillas and associated ecosystem composition with ancient DNA techniques. In addition, mapping and remote sensing of geological structures will help clarifying if rifting and volcanism provided barriers or corridors for species dispersal.