Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Integrative Biology


Biological Sciences

Major Professor

Anthony, Nicola

Second Advisor

Howard, Jerome

Third Advisor

Lailvaux, Simon

Fourth Advisor

Abernethy, Katharine


Although primates have fascinated researchers and the public alike for generations, one species that has remained enigmatic is the mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx), a large Cercopithecine monkey endemic to Central Africa. Mandrills are currently in decline due to bushmeat hunting, urbanization, and habitat loss. Neutral and adaptive genetic diversity are important tools for understanding evolutionary history and future viability, since diversity influences a species’ ability to adapt to a changing environment. However, thus far, minimal genetic information has been available for wild mandrills. Because of the dense vegetation in their tropical forest habitat, studying wild mandrills has proven to be a challenge, and the majority of research on this species has been performed on semi-captive populations. Here, I present findings from three studies using the first genetic data to be generated from a wild mandrill population, primarily using non-invasive sampling of feces. First, we use demographic history modeling to test for evidence of population bottlenecks in mandrills and three other forest-associated species (blue duiker [Philantomba monticola], Peters’s duiker [Cephalophus callipygus], and western lowland gorillas [Gorilla gorilla gorilla]). Despite a severe loss of forest cover in central Africa approximately 2,500 years ago, our results suggest that none of the four species experienced major population declines. Second, we perform next-generation sequencing of the class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a gene family involved in adaptive immunity. We test for a difference in replicability between sequences generated from DNA extracted from feces and that extracted from higher quality tissue. We also present a new method of assigning MHC alleles to individuals using degraded samples, and we use that method to characterize the MHC genes in the focal population. Lastly, we test for sex-specific selection on the MHC in male and female mandrills. Male mandrills are thought to be more vulnerable to pathogens than females, which may result in stronger selective pressure on the MHC genes in males. Results from these three studies will contribute to our understanding of mandrill evolutionary history and conservation by providing insight on the role of demographic processes and selective pressures in shaping their past and present populations.


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