A comprehensive genomic history of extinct and living elephants

Palkopoulou, Eleftheria and Lipson, Mark and Mallick, Swapan and Nielsen, Svend and Rohland, Nadin and Baleka, Sina and Karpinski, Emil and Ivancevic, Atma M. and To, Thu-Hien and Kortschak, R. Daniel and Raison, Joy M. and Qu, Zhipeng and Chin, Tat-Jun and Alt, Kurt W. and Claesson, Stefan and Dalén, Love and MacPhee, Ross D. E. and Meller, Harald and Roca, Alfred L. and Ryder, Oliver A. and Heiman, David and Young, Sarah and Breen, Matthew and Williams, Christina and Aken, Bronwen L. and Ruffier, Magali and Karlsson, Elinor and Johnson, Jeremy and Di Palma, Federica and Alfoldi, Jessica and Adelson, David L. and Mailund, Thomas and Munch, Kasper and Lindblad-Toh, Kerstin and Hofreiter, Michael and Poinar, Hendrik and Reich, David. (2018) A comprehensive genomic history of extinct and living elephants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115 (11). E2566-E2574.

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Elephantids were once among the most widespread megafaunal families. However, only three species of this family exist today. To reconstruct their evolutionary history, we generated 14 genomes from living and extinct elephantids and from the American mastodon. While previous studies examined only simple bifurcating relationships, we found that gene flow between elephantid species was common in the past. Straight-tusked elephants descend from a mixture of three ancestral populations related to the ancestor of African elephants, woolly mammoths, and present-day forest elephants. We detected interbreeding between North American woolly and Columbian mammoths but found no evidence of recent gene flow between forest and savanna elephants, demonstrating that both gene flow and isolation have been central in the evolution of elephantids.Elephantids are the world's most iconic megafaunal family, yet there is no comprehensive genomic assessment of their relationships. We report a total of 14 genomes, including 2 from the American mastodon, which is an extinct elephantid relative, and 12 spanning all three extant and three extinct elephantid species including an ∼120,000-y-old straight-tusked elephant, a Columbian mammoth, and woolly mammoths. Earlier genetic studies modeled elephantid evolution via simple bifurcating trees, but here we show that interspecies hybridization has been a recurrent feature of elephantid evolution. We found that the genetic makeup of the straight-tusked elephant, previously placed as a sister group to African forest elephants based on lower coverage data, in fact comprises three major components. Most of the straight-tusked elephant's ancestry derives from a lineage related to the ancestor of African elephants while its remaining ancestry consists of a large contribution from a lineage related to forest elephants and another related to mammoths. Columbian and woolly mammoths also showed evidence of interbreeding, likely following a latitudinal cline across North America. While hybridization events have shaped elephantid history in profound ways, isolation also appears to have played an important role. Our data reveal nearly complete isolation between the ancestors of the African forest and savanna elephants for ∼500,000 y, providing compelling justification for the conservation of forest and savanna elephants as separate species.
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Integrative Biologie > Integrative Prähistorische und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie (IPNA Schünemann)
UniBasel Contributors:Alt, Kurt W.
Item Type:Article, refereed
Article Subtype:Research Article
Publisher:National Academy of Sciences
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Journal article
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Last Modified:03 Aug 2020 15:13
Deposited On:03 Aug 2020 15:13

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