Genes Separate Africa’s Elephant Herds

Forest and savanna species prove distinct in genetic analysis.

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Until that time, Asian elephants were the dominant elephant species in Africa and may have kept the other two groups separated, O'Brien says. "They couldn't move around because the continent was full of these big Asian elephants that didn't like them,” he says.

The study may not be the final word on the number of elephant species, but many researchers say it is convincing. “It’s hard not to agree with this overwhelming amount of genetic data that gives such clear-cut answers,” says Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis, a conservation geneticist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. 

Such evidence may provide impetus for increased conservation efforts to protect the forest elephants, says Alex Greenwood, an evolutionary biologist at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany. “With this kind of data you can actually start the political process of getting them recognized as different species and get them on the radar for conservation efforts.”

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