1 Tahrcountry Musings: It is Finally Resolved – African Savannah and Forest Elephants are Two Distinct Species

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It is Finally Resolved – African Savannah and Forest Elephants are Two Distinct Species

I have always been fascinated by African elephants. So it was with utter fascination that I read the latest research paper on African elephants. The long standing dispute whether there are two species of African elephant has been finally resolved. Genetic studies by a team of scientists from the US, UK and Germany indicate that African Savannah and forest elephants are two distinct species. They are now the savannah (or bush) elephant, Loxodonta africana, and the forest species, Loxodonta Loxodonta cyclotis.
Savannah elephants weigh about twice the size of forest-dwellers.

The researchers also compared sequences of DNA from the nuclei of African and Asian elephants, and from woolly mammoths and the American mastodon. All are members of the Proboscidae order of mammals. They generated 39,763 bp of aligned nuclear DNA sequence across 375 loci for African savanna elephant, African forest elephant, Asian elephant, the extinct American mastodon, and the woolly mammoth. The authors say “Our data establish that the Asian elephant is the closest living relative of the extinct mammoth in the nuclear genome, extending previous findings from mitochondrial DNA analyses. We also find that savanna and forest elephants, which some have argued are the same species, are as or more divergent in the nuclear genome as mammoths and Asian elephants, which are considered to be distinct genera, thus resolving a long-standing debate about the appropriate taxonomic classification of the African elephants”.
Genomic DNA Sequences from Mastodon and Woolly Mammoth Reveal Deep Speciation of Forest and Savanna Elephants
Nadin Rohland, David Reich, Swapan Mallick,Matthias Meyer, Richard E. Green and Nicholas J. 
PLoS Biology: Research Article, published 21 Dec 201010.1371/journal.pbio.1000564e

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