Breaking News

Study: There are four giraffe species, not one

"With now four distinct species, the conservation status of each of these can be better defined," said researcher Julian Fennessy

Brooks Hays
Africa hosts not one but four species of giraffe, according to new DNA analysis. Photo by Andrzej Kubik/Shutterstock
Until now, scientists thought all giraffes belonged to a single species. Biologists divided the species into nine subspecies based on coat patterns, horn structure and regional distribution.
But new genetic analysis suggests divergent populations of the long-necked mammals actually comprise four unique species.
Researchers with the Senckenberg Nature Research Society and Giraffe Conservation Foundation studied nuclear marker genes among DNA samples from 100 giraffes. Their results -- detailed in the journal Current Biology -- revealed genetic patterns divergent enough to warrant reclassification.
"We were extremely surprised, because the morphological and coat pattern differences between giraffe are limited," Axel Janke, a geneticist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center and Goethe University in Germany, said in a news release.
With giraffe populations declining across Africa, the new genetic analysis may have serious implications for conservation efforts.
"With now four distinct species, the conservation status of each of these can be better defined and in turn added to the IUCN Red List," said Julian Fennessy of Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Namibia. "Working collaboratively with African governments, the continued support of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and partners can highlight the importance of each of these dwindling species, and hopefully kick start targeted conservation efforts and internal donor support for their increased protection."
The four new giraffe species include: the southern giraffe, Giraffa giraffa; the Masai giraffe, G. tippelskirchi; the reticulated giraffe, G. reticulata; and the northern giraffe, G. camelopardalis.
The four different species do not mate with each other in the wild, researchers report.
The southern giraffe can be further divided into two distinct subspecies, the Angolan, G. g. angolensis, and South African giraffe, G. g. giraffa. The northern giraffe is comprised of three different subspecies: the Nubian giraffe, G. c. camelopardalis; the West African giraffe, G. c. peralta; and the Kordofan giraffe, G. c. antiquorum.
The genetic analysis also revealed the four species' last common ancestor to have lived between 400,000 and 2 million years ago.

No comments