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DNA recovery from wild chimpanzee tools.

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Piel, Alexander K 
Luncz, Lydia 
Osborn, Joanna 
Li, Yingying 


Most of our knowledge of wild chimpanzee behaviour stems from fewer than 10 long-term field sites. This bias limits studies to a potentially unrepresentative set of communities known to show great behavioural diversity on small geographic scales. Here, we introduce a new genetic approach to bridge the gap between behavioural material evidence in unhabituated chimpanzees and genetic advances in the field of primatology. The use of DNA analyses has revolutionised archaeological and primatological fields, whereby extraction of DNA from non-invasively collected samples allows researchers to reconstruct behaviour without ever directly observing individuals. We used commercially available forensic DNA kits to show that termite-fishing by wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) leaves behind detectable chimpanzee DNA evidence on tools. We then quantified the recovered DNA, compared the yield to that from faecal samples, and performed an initial assessment of mitochondrial and microsatellite markers to identify individuals. From 49 termite-fishing tools from the Issa Valley research site in western Tanzania, we recovered an average of 52 pg/μl chimpanzee DNA, compared to 376.2 pg/μl in faecal DNA extracts. Mitochondrial DNA haplotypes could be assigned to 41 of 49 tools (84%). Twenty-six tool DNA extracts yielded >25 pg/μl DNA and were selected for microsatellite analyses; genotypes were determined with confidence for 18 tools. These tools were used by a minimum of 11 individuals across the study period and termite mounds. These results demonstrate the utility of bio-molecular techniques and a primate archaeology approach in non-invasive monitoring and behavioural reconstruction of unhabituated primate populations.



Animals, DNA, Pan troglodytes, Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction, Tanzania

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PLoS One

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Public Library of Science (PLoS)
Leakey Foundation (unknown)