Sumatran rhinoceros have been endangered for centuries: Research

Sumatran rhinoceros have been endangered for centuries: Research

Sumatran rhinoceros have ‘critically endangered’ status but a new research suggests that the species has been endangered for nearly 10,000 years. Sumatran rhinoceros are less than 100 across the world at the moment. The study led by genetics professor Herman Mays Jr. at Marshall University suggests that change in living conditions during Ice Age badly impacted population of Sumatran rhinoceros and it hasn’t been able to recover from that major shock.

The study paper suggests that the population of Sumatran rhinoceros was at its peak during the Pleistocene period, which was 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago. As the period approached its end (around 10,000 years back), the population of Sumatran rhino was hit badly. And, they weren’t able to recover even though the climate changed back to normal. The biggest decline was caused by major climate change in its habitat, Southeast Asia's Sundaland.

Professor Mays carefully analyzed genome of Ipuh, a male rhino from the Cincinnati Zoo who died in 2013. As per the analysis of study team, the population of Sumatran rhinoceros dropped to less than 700 by the end of Ice Age.

Professor Mays added, “Our genome sequence data revealed that the Pleistocene was a roller-coaster ride for Sumatran rhinoceros populations. By the end of the Pleistocene, the Sundaland corridor was submerged, and populations were fragmented.”

The paper further informed, “Rhinoceroses (Family: Rhinocerotidae) have a rich fossil history replete with iconic examples of climate-induced extinctions, but current pressures threaten to eliminate this group entirely. The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is among the most imperiled mammals on earth.”

Genomic coalescent analyses allow for hypothesis testing regarding demographic history, an approach that is particularly useful when studying recently extinct or highly endangered species, where sampling is often extremely limited. Studies have shown that currently imperiled or recently extinct species tend to have experienced long-term population decline or have a relatively low effective population size (Ne) caused by dramatic population fluctuation

The research has been published in Cell journal Biology.