Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A discovery to trumpet... a third species of elephant is found found using DNA


Two become three: Africa's forest elephant is a species in its own right

For zoologists it has, if you excuse the pun, long been the elephant in the room.
While the text books insist there are just two species of elephant in the world – the long-eared African and the smaller Asian – many experts have been convinced there are three.

Now a genetic study has confirmed that Africa alone is home to two distinct types of the animal.

DNA tests have shown that the larger savanna elephant, known from thousands of wildlife documentaries and Tarzan movies, is indeed a separate species from the smaller and much overlooked forest-dwelling variety.

In fact, the two African elephants are as distinct from each other as some living elephants are from mammoths, the study found.

Distinct: The savanna elephant is 3ft taller and twice as heavy

It also concluded that, with the exception of some inter-breeding between the two, the species have been separate for at least five million years.

Researchers made the discovery after comparing DNA samples from the three living elephant species with the extinct woolly mammoth and American mastodon.

Professor Michi Hofreiter, an expert in ancient DNA at York University who was involved in the study, said: ‘The divergence of the two species took place around the time of the divergence of the Asian elephant and woolly mammoths.

‘The split between African savanna and forest elephants is almost as old as the split between humans and chimpanzees. This result amazed us all.’

source: dailymail

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