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Elephant family tree shaken by new discovery

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A new study reconfigures the elephant family tree, placing the giant extinct elephant Palaeoloxodon antiquus closer to the African forest elephant, Loxodonta cyclotis, than to the Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, which was once thought to be its closest living relative. From Diana Yates at U Illinois:

New research reveals that a species of giant elephant that lived 1.5 million to 100,000 years ago – ranging across Eurasia before it went extinct – is more closely related to today’s African forest elephant than the forest elephant is to its nearest living relative, the African savanna elephant.

The study challenges a long-held assumption among paleontologists that the extinct giant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus, was most closely related to the Asian elephant. The findings, reported in the journal eLife, also add to the evidence that today’s African elephants belong to two distinct species, not one, as was once assumed.

“We’ve had really good genetic evidence since the year 2001 that forest and savanna elephants in Africa are two different species, but it’s been very difficult to convince conservation agencies that that’s the case,” Roca said. “With the new genetic evidence from Palaeoloxodon, it becomes almost impossible to argue that the elephants now living in Africa belong to a single species.” More.

As noted earlier, the main problem here is that the concept of speciation—a Darwinian obsession —is a mess anyway. It is becoming a drag on conservation efforts.

See also: Fossil cichlid implies hybridization played a great role in speciation The reality is that most of the claims for “speciation” of cichlids must be spurious if “hybridization” plays so great a role. But, increasingly, that is just the sort of thing we are supposed to avoid noticing.

I was thinking that you really don't want to be standing under an elephant family tree when it's being shaken. Seversky
They ain't seen nothin' yet. The most fascinating discoveries are still ahead. Fasten your seatbelts. The ride is just starting. Work in progress... stay tuned. Complex complexity. Dionisio
Elephant family tree shaken
There's a one-liner utilizing "trunk" here somewhere. Andrew asauber

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