Ancient and modern genomes unravel the evolutionary history of the rhinoceros family
Liu, Shanlin; Westbury, Michael V; Dussex, Nicolas; Mitchell, Kieren J.; Sinding, Mikkel-Holger S.; Heintzman, Peter D.; Duchêne, David A.; Kapp, Joshua D.; von Seth, Johanna; Heiniger, Holly; Sánchez-Barreiro, Fatima; Margaryan, Ashot; André-Olsen, Remi; De Cahsan, Binia; Meng, Guanliang; Yang, Chentao; Chen, Lei; van der Valk, Tom; Moodley, Yoshan; Rookmaaker, Kees; Bruford, Michael W.; Ryder, Oliver; Steiner, Cynthia; Bruins-van Sonsbeek, Linda G. R.; Vartanyan, Sergey; Guo, Chunxue; Cooper, Alan; Kosintsev, Pavel; Kirillova, Irina V.; Lister, Adrian M.; Marques-Bonet, Tomas; Gopalakrishnan, Shyam; Dunn, Robert R.; Lorenzen, Eline D.; Shapiro, Beth; Zhang, Guojie; Antoine, Pierre-Olivier; Dalén, Love; Gilbert, Marcus Thomas Pius
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Only five species of the once-diverse Rhinocerotidae remain, making the reconstruction of their evolutionary history a challenge to biologists since Darwin. We sequenced genomes from five rhinoceros species (three extinct and two living), which we compared to existing data from the remaining three living species and a range of outgroups. We identify an early divergence between extant African and Eurasian lineages, resolving a key debate regarding the phylogeny of extant rhinoceroses. This early Miocene (∼16 million years ago [mya]) split post-dates the land bridge formation between the Afro-Arabian and Eurasian landmasses. Our analyses also show that while rhinoceros genomes in general exhibit low levels of genome-wide diversity, heterozygosity is lowest and inbreeding is highest in the modern species. These results suggest that while low genetic diversity is a long-term feature of the family, it has been particularly exacerbated recently, likely reflecting recent anthropogenic-driven population declines.