The Sumatran rhinoceros is about to go extinct, researchers say

Rodiano Bonacci
Dicembre 17, 2017

The Pleistocene period spanned from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago.

But after that, it was all downhill for the species. Now, an global team of researchers has sequenced and analyzed the first Sumatran rhino genome from a sample belonging to a male made famous at the Cincinnati Zoo. But researchers have found that the trouble for Sumatran rhinoceros populations began about one million years ago, around the middle of the Pleistocene.

The decline in Sumatran rhino's population is generally attributed to recent surge in illegal hunting. By the end of the Pleistocene, Sundaland corridor and many other natural habitats submerged.

"The Sumatran rhinoceros species is stretching on by a thread", stated researcher Terri Roth, of the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

The new insight into the rhinos' demographic history is useful for placing the species' current population status into a broader ecological and evolutionary context, the researchers say.

Based on the researchers' decisions, the Sumatran rhinoceros' concerns might have started during the Pleistocene era, which was defined by research author Herman Mays Jr., a professor at Marshall University, as a "roller-coaster ride".

Sumatran rhinos are on the verge of extinction.

Changes in the region of Southeast Asia known as Sundaland, which included that habitat, likely isolated Sumatran rhinoceros populations.

"Their population bottomed out and never showed signs of recovery", said Prof Mays.

An global team of researchers has sequenced and analysed the first Sumatran rhino genome from a sample belonging to a male animal, Ipuh, which lived at Ohio's Cincinnati Zoo, in the United States, for 22 years until his death in 2013. The team combined PSMC with ecological niche modeling to understand how changes in population size were related to climate change in the past.

The researchers estimate that the Sumatran rhinoceros population peaked at an estimated effective population of about 57,800 individuals about 950,000 years ago. The findings suggest that climate change in the distant past reduced the genetic diversity of Sumatran rhinos, leaving them even more vulnerable to later pressures from human activity.

The researchers sequenced and analysed the first whole Sumatran rhino genome from a sample belonging to a well-known male at Cincinnati Zoo. Roth reports that two of Ipuh's sons continue to live at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Sumatra. One of them has already sired two calves.

To get an idea of the Sumatran rhinoceros' history, the experts utilised a method called pairwise sequentially Markovian coalescent, or PSMC, which takes an individual of the species' genome series, then considers the demographics of that class over thousands of generations. "We need to do more to save it".

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