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Surprising Rhino Diversity

A genetic analysis of the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros has unexpectedly found them to have low levels of inbreeding, a finding that could help efforts to prevent their extinction, Reuters reports. It notes that the once-widespread Sumatran rhinoceroses now number about 80 individuals, largely due to poaching and the destruction of their habitat.

A Stockholm University-led team analyzed genomic samples from 21 modern and historical rhinos from Borneo, Sumatra, and a recently extinct Malay Peninsula population. As they report in Nature Communications, the researchers found that the rhinos from Borneo and Sumatra exhibited low levels of inbreeding, though a high mutational load.

In a statement, first author Johanna von Seth from Stockholm's Center for Paleogenetics notes the genetic diversity of the Sumatran rhino was a surprise. She and her colleagues suspect that rhino diversity has remained high because its population decline occurred recently.

"When it comes to long-term survival of a species, genetic diversity is one of the key factors, as this enables adaptation to future environmental changes and diseases," von Seth tells Reuters. "So, the fact that a lot of diversity remains is very promising if we can manage to maintain it, of course assuming we can also reduce the impact of non-genetic factors."



Tags: Europe, Asia, Stockholm, genetic diversity