Sci Rep 8 (1) 6551 [2018-04-25; online 2018-04-25]
Species and populations are disappearing at an alarming rate as a direct result of human activities. Loss of genetic diversity associated with population decline directly impacts species' long-term survival. Therefore, preserving genetic diversity is of considerable conservation importance. However, to assist in conservation efforts, it is important to understand how genetic diversity is spatially distributed and how it changes due to anthropogenic pressures. In this study, we use historical museum and modern faecal samples of two critically endangered eastern gorilla taxa, Grauer's (Gorilla beringei graueri) and mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), to directly infer temporal changes in genetic diversity within the last century. Using over 100 complete mitochondrial genomes, we observe a significant decline in haplotype and nucleotide diversity in Grauer's gorillas. By including historical samples from now extinct populations we show that this decline can be attributed to the loss of peripheral populations rather than a decrease in genetic diversity within the core range of the species. By directly quantifying genetic changes in the recent past, our study shows that human activities have severely impacted eastern gorilla genetic diversity within only four to five generations. This rapid loss calls for dedicated conservation actions, which should include preservation of the remaining peripheral populations.