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Surprising Discovery: Giraffes Have More Than One Species

Sep 09, 2016 05:17 AM EDT
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A new study revealed that giraffes living in the different regions of Africa belongs to four distinct species, debunking previous claims that these majestic and tall mammals belongs to a single species, Giraffa camelopardalis.

Previously, giraffes are listed under a single species with nine based on coat patterns, ossicone (horn) structure and geographical distribution. However, a study published in the journal Current Biology suggests that the four species, even slightly similar to each other, are actually very distinct from one another on genetic level.

"We found, that there are not only one, but at least four genetically highly distinct groups of giraffe, which apparently do not mate with each other in the wild. This we found looking at multiple nuclear genes considered to be representative of the entire genome," explained Professor Axel Janke, researcher at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research, a Professor at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany and lead author of the study, in a press release.

For the study, the researchers collected tissue samples from 190 giraffes living in different areas of Africa. Using these tissue samples, the researchers analyzed the mitochondrial DNA of the giraffes, in addition to the seven specific genetic markers.

Their analysis revealed four different species that are genetically different from one another. These four new species include the southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa), Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi), reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata), and northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis).

The researchers noted that their findings could play a crucial role in the conservation of giraffes. Latest estimates put the total number of giraffe population to approximately 100,000, nearly 35 percent decline in the last 35 years. Labeled under a single species, the giraffes are listed as "Least Concern" under the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List.

However, when separated into four species, three of the species are experiencing rapid decline, with two of them already numbering less than 10,000.

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