Y Chromosomal Variation Tracks the Evolution of Mating Systems in Chimpanzee and Bonobo


The male-specific regions of the Y chromosome (MSY) of the human and the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) are fully sequenced. The most striking difference is the dramatic rearrangement of large parts of their respective MSYs. These nonrecombining regions include ampliconic gene families that are known to be important for male reproduction,and are consequently under significant selective pressure. However, whether the published Y-chromosomal pattern of ampliconic fertility genes is invariable within P. troglodytes is an open but fundamental question pertinent to discussions of the evolutionary fate of the Y chromosome in different primate mating systems. To solve this question we applied fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) of testis-specific expressed ampliconic fertility genes to metaphase Y chromosomes of 17 chimpanzees derived from 11 wild-born males and 16 bonobos representing seven wild-born males. We show that of eleven P. troglodytes Y-chromosomal lines, ten Y-chromosomal variants were detected based on the number and arrangement of the ampliconic fertility genes DAZ (deleted in azoospermia) and CDY (chromodomain protein Y)—a so-far never-described variation of a species’ Y chromosome. In marked contrast, no variation was evident among seven Ychromosomal lines of the bonobo, P. paniscus, the chimpanzee’s closest living relative. Although, loss of variation of the Y chromosome in the bonobo by a founder effect or genetic drift cannot be excluded, these contrasting patterns might be explained in the context of the species’ markedly different social and mating behaviour. In chimpanzees, multiple males copulate with a receptive female during a short period of visible anogenital swelling, and this may place significant selection on fertility genes. In bonobos, however, female mate choice may make sperm competition redundant (leading to monomorphism of fertility genes), since ovulation in this species is concealed by the prolonged anogenital swelling, and because female bonobos can occupy high-ranking positions in the group and are thus able to determine mate choice more freely.