Skeletal ageing in Virunga mountain gorillas: Skeletal Aging in Mountain Gorillas

Christopher B. Ruff, Juho Antti Junno, Winnie Eckardt, Kirsten Gilardi, Antoine Mudakikwa, Shannon C. McFarlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Bone loss and heightened fracture risk are common conditions associated with ageing in modern human populations and have been attributed to both hormonal and other metabolic and behavioural changes. To what extent these age-related trends are specific to modern humans or generally characteristic of natural populations of other taxa is not clear. In this study, we use computed tomography to examine age changes in long bone and vertebral structural properties of 34 wild-adult Virunga mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) whose skeletons were recovered from natural accumulations. Chronological ages were known or estimated from sample-specific dental wear formulae and ranged between 11 and 43 years. Gorillas show some of the same characteristics of skeletal ageing as modern humans, including endosteal and some periosteal expansion. However, unlike in humans, there is no decline in cortical or trabecular bone density, or in combined geometric-density measures of strength, nor do females show accelerated bone loss later in life. We attribute these differences to the lack of an extended post-reproductive period in gorillas, which provides protection against bone resorption. Increases in age-related fractures (osteoporosis) in modern humans may be a combined effect of an extended lifespan and lower activity levels earlier in life. This article is part of the theme issue 'Evolution of the primate ageing process'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190606
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1811
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • bone mineral density
  • bone strength
  • gorilla
  • osteoporosis
  • skeletal ageing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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