mtDNA of Fulani Nomads and Their Genetic Relationships to Neighboring Sedentary Populations

Despite the large size of the contemporary nomadic Fulani population (roughly 13 million people), the genetic diversity and degree of differentiation of Fulanis compared to other sub-Saharan populations remain unknown. We sampled four Fulani nomad populations (n=186) in three countries of sub-Saharan Africa (Chad, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso) and analyzed sequences of the first hypervariable segment of the mitochondrial DNA. Most of the haplotypes belong to haplogroups of West African origin, such as L1b, L3b, L3d, L2b, L2c, and L2d (79.6% in total), which are all well represented in each of the four geographically separated samples. The haplogroups of Western Eurasian origin, such as J1b, U5, H, and V, were also detected but in rather low frequencies (8.1% in total). As in African hunter-gatherers (Pygmies and Khoisan) and some populations from central Tunisia (Kesra and Zriba), three of the Fulani nomad samples do not reveal significant negative values of Fu's selective neutrality test. The multidimensional scaling of FST genetic distances of related sub-Saharan populations and the analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) show clear and close relationships between all pairs of the four Fulani nomad samples, irrespective of their geographic origin. The only group of nomadic Fulani that manifests some similarities with geographically related agricultural populations (from Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria) comes from Tcheboua in northern Cameroon.