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Namibia Desert Elephants Can Pass Knowledge, Survival Skills for Adaptation

Aug 05, 2016 05:18 AM EDT
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Elephants in a river
Namibian desert elephants tend to survive more, not because of genetics, but of their knowledge and survival skills.
(Photo : John Y. Can/Creative Commons Image/Flickr)

Did you know that desert-dwelling Namibia elephants can most likely survive than their non-desert counterparts? That is because they can pass their unique knowledge and survival skills to their offspring.

The Gulf Today reports that according to an interesting study conducted on Namibian elephants, these animals pass their knowledge and survival skills to their future generation to help them adapt to extreme environmental conditions.

Do genetics or mutations have something to do with these?

Genetic changes are not critical for the species such as elephants to adapt to a new environment regarding their ability to learn and change behavior, according to lead author Alfred Roca, a professor of animal sciences and member of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois

"The behavioral changes can allow species to expand their range to novel marginal habitats that differ sharply from the core habitat," he added, Science Daily reports.

Published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, the study evaluated the nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of both desert-dwelling and non-desert-dwelling elephant populations throughout Namibia.

Researchers found the desert-dwelling elephant DNA was not significantly different from the DNA of other savanna elephant populations in Namibia, except those in Caprivi Strip.

Phys.org reports that historical evidence of elephant movements during the Namibian War of Independence, in which hunting pressures increased, is consistent with the lack of genetic differentiation (aside from the Caprivi Strip), according to the study.

"Our results and the historical record suggest that a high learning capacity and long distance migrations enabled Namibian elephants to shift their ranges to survive against high variability in climate and in hunting pressure," added Yasuko Ishida, a research scientist at the University of Illinois.

To prevent overheating in extreme temperatures, Namibian desert-dwelling elephants cover their bodies with sand wet by urine or regurgitated water from a specialized pouch beneath their tongue, which could hold gallons of water. They also remember the location of scarce water and food resources across their home ranges, which are unusually large compared to those of other elephants, Phys Org reports.

Namibian desert elephants play a critical role in this arid ecosystem by creating paths and digging watering holes.

"Regardless, these elephants should be conserved," said Roca. "Their knowledge of how to live in the desert is crucial to the survival of future generations of elephants in the arid habitat, and pressure from hunting and climate change may only increase in the coming decades.

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