Monday, September 12, 2016

Giraffes are Actually Four Species

what species are these?
One of the first things you learn on safari in Africa is how to distinguish the different types of giraffes from each other by the color pattern on their hides.  In southern Africa you will see many southern giraffe, but not as many reticulated. (less distinct, irregular patches of lighter brown versus distinct borders outlining more regular dark brown patches)  What US Person did not know is that modern genetic science has recently determined that what were once considered subspecies of Giraffa cameloparadis are actually four species separated by millions of years with no crossbreeding evident in their genomes. This genetic study of giraffe DNA published in the journal Current Biology has rewritten the guide books and has significant implications for future conservation.  In the past 15 years giraffe populations have declined by forty percent to about 90,000 giraffes, but with four distinct species now recognized by science, each could be fairing very differently.

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation asked for the study to be conducted.  A scientific team from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center studied giraffes in Namibia and found their genomes indicated four separate species of giraffe instead of one species divided into geographic subspecies.  The current understanding of the relationship between the four distinct species is similar to that between the polar bear and brown bear.  Both are bears but their long-term genetic development in response to different habitats has produced two distinct types of bears within the same genus of bears.  The four giraffe species are: the southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa); the northern giraffe (Giraffa cameloparadis); the Masai giraffe (Giraffa tippleskirchi); and the reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata).  The differences suggest the speciation is the result of adaptation to distinct environments and food sources.

Answer: reticulated