Tuesday, April 26, 2005
DNA solves mystery of Gibraltar's macaques
A DNA investigation has solved the mysterious origin of Gibraltar's Barbary macaques, the only free-ranging monkeys in Europe, according to a report on Monday.
The approximately 200 macaques alive today had nearly disappeared in 1942, and Britain's then-prime minister, Winston Churchill, ordered that their numbers be replenished or risk fulfilling a folklore belief that Britain would lose Gibraltar if the macaques ever died out.
"Our project was designed as a test case for conservation genetics," said Robert Martin, lead author of the study released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"The Gibraltar colony of Barbary macaques provided an ideal example of genetic isolation of a small population, which is now a regular occurrence among wild primate populations because of forest fragmentation.
"To our surprise, we found a relatively high level of genetic variability in the Gibraltar macaques. This is now explained by our conclusion that the population was founded with individuals from two genetically distinct populations in Algeria and Morocco," said Martin, a primatologist and provost of the Field Museum in Chicago.
Posted by C. at 10:52 AM