BACKGROUND: Preterm birth is a leading cause of perinatal mortality, yet the evolutionary history of this obstetrical syndrome is largely unknown in nonhuman primate species.<br /><br />METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We examined the length of gestation during pregnancies that occurred in a captive chimpanzee colony by inspecting veterinary and behavioral records spanning a total of thirty years. Upon examination of these records we were able to confidently estimate gestation length for 93 of the 97 (96%) pregnancies recorded at the colony. In total, 78 singleton gestations resulted in live birth, and from these pregnancies we estimated the mean gestation length of normal chimpanzee pregnancies to be 228 days, a finding consistent with other published reports. We also calculated that the range of gestation in normal chimpanzee pregnancies is approximately forty days. Of the remaining fifteen pregnancies, only one of the offspring survived, suggesting viability for chimpanzees requires a gestation of approximately 200 days. These fifteen pregnancies constitute spontaneous abortions and preterm deliveries, for which the upper gestational age limit was defined as 2 SD from the mean length of gestation (208 days).<br /><br />CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The present study documents that preterm birth occurred within our study population of captive chimpanzees. As in humans, pregnancy loss is not uncommon in chimpanzees, In addition, our findings indicate that both humans and chimpanzees show a similar range of normal variation in gestation length, suggesting this was the case at the time of their last common ancestor (LCA). Nevertheless, our data suggest that whereas chimpanzees' normal gestation length is ∼20-30 days after reaching viability, humans' normal gestation length is approximately 50 days beyond the estimated date of viability without medical intervention. Future research using a comparative evolutionary framework should help to clarify the extent to which mechanisms at work in normal and preterm parturition are shared in these species.
Wildman, D. E., Uddin, M., Romero, R., Gonzalez, J. M., Than, N. G., Murphy, J., … Fritz, J. (2011). Spontaneous abortion and preterm labor and delivery in nonhuman primates: Evidence from a captive colony of chimpanzees (pan troglodytes). PLoS ONE, 6(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0024509