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Fine-scale human population structure in southern Africa reflects ecogeographic boundaries

By Caitlin Uren, Minju Kim, Alicia R. Martin, Dean Bobo, Christopher R Gignoux, Paul D van Helden, Marlo Möller, Eileen G. Hoal, Brenna M Henn

Posted 09 Jan 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/098095 (published DOI: 10.1534/genetics.116.187369)

Recent genetic studies have established that the KhoeSan populations of southern Africa are distinct from all other African populations and have remained largely isolated during human prehistory until about 2,000 years ago. Dozens of different KhoeSan groups exist, belonging to three different language families, but very little is known about their population history. We examine new genome-wide polymorphism data and whole mitochondrial genomes for more than one hundred South Africans from the ≠Khomani San and Nama populations of the Northern Cape, analyzed in conjunction with 19 additional southern African populations. Our analyses reveal fine-scale population structure in and around the Kalahari Desert. Surprisingly, this structure does not always correspond to linguistic or subsistence categories as previously suggested, but rather reflects the role of geographic barriers and the ecology of the greater Kalahari Basin. Regardless of subsistence strategy, the indigenous Khoe-speaking Nama pastoralists and the N|u-speaking ≠Khomani (formerly hunter-gatherers) share ancestry with other Khoe-speaking forager populations that form a rim around the Kalahari Desert. We reconstruct earlier migration patterns and estimate that the southern Kalahari populations were among the last to experience gene flow from Bantu-speakers, approximately 14 generations ago. We conclude that local adoption of pastoralism, at least by the Nama, appears to have been primarily a cultural process with limited genetic impact from eastern Africa.

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