Mammoths went extinct a long time ago. However, that hasn’t stopped scientists from learning more about them and how they adapted to the changes in their environment over the years. A recent study discovered cross breeding in mammoths and mastodons, which allowed them to survive in a great variety of environments and adapt to new surroundings as they were changing locations.
Scientists from McMaster, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Harvard Medical School, Uppsala University, and the University of Potsdam teamed up and published a report regarding the cross breeding in mammoths and mastodons in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Their report suggests that ancient elephant species participated in widespread interbreeding to survive.
“Interbreeding may help explain why mammoths were so successful over such diverse environments and for such a long time, importantly this genomic data also tells us that biology is messy and that evolution doesn’t happen in an organized, linear fashion,” says evolutionary geneticist Hendrik Poinar, one of the senior authors on the paper, as per the report in Phys.org.
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The researchers, according to the report, successfully identified the genomes of 14 different species of elephants. They sequenced both living and extinct species present in Asia and Africa. They also sequenced the genome of two American mastodons, a 120,000-year-old straight-tusked elephant, wholly mammoths, and a Columbian mammoth.
“The combined analysis of genome-wide data from all these ancient elephants and mastodons has raised the curtain on elephant population history, revealing complexity that we were simply not aware of before,” Poinar said.
According to the researchers, the evolution of today’s pachyderms is very complicated. Their analysis discovered that the straight-tusked elephants, ancient African elephants, present day forest elephants, and woolly mammoth shared the same genome. Those creatures were present in Europe between 780,000 and 50,000 years ago.
Researchers also found that Columbian and woolly mammoths also practiced inter-species breeding, concluding that both mammoths made an encounter at the boundary between the glacial regions and more temperate parts of North America.
Nevertheless, the sequenced genomes didn’t find crossbreeding in two of the three remaining elephant species on Earth. Although the forest and savanna elephants live in neighboring areas, they have isolated themselves for over 500,000 years. They have a common ancestor, but they managed to evolve on their own while scientists are trying to determine if they are two completely separate species, according to David Reich, another co-senior author from Harvard, as per Phys.org.
“Our data show that these two species have been isolated for long periods of time – making each worthy of independent conservation status.”
“This paper, the product of a grand initiative we started more than a decade ago, is far more than just the formal report of the elephant genome. It will be a reference point for understanding how diverse elephants are related to each other and it will be a model for how similar studies can be done in other species groups,” co-senior author Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, a senior associate member of the Broad Institute and Director of the Science for Life Laboratory at Uppsala University in Sweden said regarding the cross breeding in mammoths and mastodons.