Navigation auf


Institut für Evolutionäre Anthropologie (IEA) Evolutionary Genetics Group

Alexander Nater

Phone Fax Email
+41 44 635 54 32 +41 44 635 68 04 a.nater*

Research Interests

I am interested in the processes that have influenced the patterns of genetic diversity and differentiation currently observed within and among extant species. Disentangling the contributions of different evolutionary forces, such as mutation, migration, genetic drift and natural selection, in shaping these patterns requires detailed knowledge of the demographic history of populations. In my PhD project, I investigated the environmental processes underlying genetic structuring, gene flow and population size changes in orangutans (Pongo spp.), the only Asian great apes, and species that are closely related to humans. Orangutans, whose distribution is currently restricted to the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatra (Pongo abelii), have likely experienced a complex demographic history, influenced by recurrent climate and sea level changes, volcanic activity and prehistoric human hunting. More recently, human-induced large-scale destruction and fragmentation of their habitat renders many populations highly susceptible to extinction.

I am particularly interested in statistical methods to reconstruct the demographic history of populations from genetic data. While recent technological advances have allowed generating large amounts of genetic data from a multitude of different species, analyzing such data in complex demographic models remains an extremely challenging task. In the case of orangutans, previous studies dealing with demographic history only tested simplified models and often used a small number of genetic samples with unknown geographic origin. It remains unknown to what extent unrepresentative population sampling, population substructure and oversimplified models have led to misleading conclusions in these studies. My main goal is to make use of all the current knowledge of orangutan genetics and behavioral ecology, as well as the geological history of the Southeast Asian Sundaland region to design realistic models of orangutan demographic history. I will then test the fit of these models to the genetic data generated from an extensive set of wild orangutan samples that we were able to bring together in Zurich. These genetic samples have a well-defined geographic origin and cover the whole distribution of both extant orangutan species. To compare different demographic models and infer important model parameters, such as effective population sizes and population split times, I am applying different novel statistical methods, including Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC), which allows testing complex demographic models using different types of genetic markers in a combined analysis.

Academic Record

PhD Program in Evolutionary Biology, University of Zurich, Switzerland (2007-2012)

MSc degree in Biology, Anthropology from the University of Zurich, Switzerland (2007)

BSc degree in Biology from the University of Zurich, Switzerland (2005)


Nater, A; Greminger, M P; Arora, N; van Schaik, C P; Singleton, I; Warren, K S; Verschoor, E J; Krützen, M (in prep). Reconstructing the Demographic History of Orangutans using Approximate Bayesian Computation

Wich, S A; Krützen, M; Lameira, A R; Arora, N; Nater, A; Bastian, M L; Meulman, E; Morrogh-Bernard, H C; Utami Atmoko S S; Pamungkas, J; Perwitasari Farajalla, D; Hardus, M E; van Noordwijk, M; van Schaik, C P (in press). Call cultures in orang-utans? PLoS ONE.

Nietlisbach, P; Arora, N; Nater, A; Goossens, B; van Schaik C P; Krützen M (in press). Heavily male-biased long distance dispersal of orang-utans (genus: Pongo), as revealed by Y chromosomal and mitochondrial genetic markers. Molecular Ecology.

ZORA Publication List

Download Options


Rotheray, E L; Greminger, M P; Nater, A; Krützen, M; Goulson, D; and Bussière, L F (2012). Polymorphic microsatellite loci for the endangered pine hoverfly Blera fallax (Diptera: Syrphidae). Conservation Genetics Resources 4: 117-120.

Nietlisbach, P; Nater, A; Greminger, M P; Arora; N; and Krützen, M (2010). A multiplex-system to target 16 male-specific and 15 autosomal genetic markers for orang-utans (genus: Pongo). Conservation Genetics Resources 2: 153–158


Processes Underlying Genetic Differentiation and Speciation in Orangutans (Pongo spp.). PhD thesis, 2012. Submitted to the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

New microsatellite markers in orang-utans (Pongo spp.) and bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops spp.). Master’s thesis, 2007. Submitted to the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

Conference Presentations

  • Nater, A; Arora, N; Greminger, M P; Nietlisbach, P; van Schaik, C P; Krützen, M (2011). Sex-biased Dispersal and Volcanic Activities Shaped Phylogeographic Patterns of Extant Orangutans (genus: Pongo). Talk at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE), July 26-30, 2011 in Kyoto, Japan.
  • Nater, A; Arora, N; Greminger M P; Nietlisbach, P; van Schaik, C P; Krützen, M (2011). Sex-biased Dispersal and Volcanic Activities Shaped Phylogeographic Patterns of Extant Orangutans (genus: Pongo). Talk at the Biology11 and PACE11 conference, February 2-4, 2011 in Zurich, Switzerland.
  • Nater, A; Arora, N; Nietlisbach, P; Pamungkas, J; van Schaik, C P; Krützen, M (2010). Disentangling the Complex Population History of Orangutans. Talk at the 13th Congress of the International Primatological Society (IPS), September 12-18, 2010 in Kyoto, Japan.
  • Nater, A; Arora, N; Pamungkas, J; van Schaik, C P; Krützen, M (2009). Disentangling the Complex Population History of Orangutans (Pongo spp.). Talk at the 3th International Congress of the European Federation of Primatologists (EFP), August 12-15, 2009 in Zurich, Switzerland.
  • Nater, A; Kopps, A M; Krützen, M (2007). New polymorphic tetranucleotide microsatellite markers in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops spp.). Poster presentation at the 17th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Nater, A; Krützen, M (2007). Influence of ascertainment bias on the estimates of genetic diversity with human-derived microsatellites in orangutans. Poster presentation at the 2nd Congress of the European Federation for Primatology (EFP), September 3–7, 2007 in Prague, Czech Republic


Dr. Ian Singleton and Dr. Serge Wich, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, Medan, Indonesia

Dr. Benoit Goossens, Director Danau Girang Field Centre, Sabah, Malaysia

Dr. Joko Pamungkas and Dr. Dyah Perwitasari-Farajallah, Primate Research Center, Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia

Dr. Kris Warren, School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia

Dr. Lounès Chikhi and Dr. Reeta Sharma, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Oeiras, Portugal

Weiterführende Informationen

Alexander Nater

Alexander Nater