By: April Carson
The history of rhinoceroses has been revealed in a DNA study. It shows that the woolly ancestors were not originally from Africa but rather Asia, and it also reveals information about how many species there are.
Woolly rhinos are an extinct species of rhinoceros that lived in Europe, Asia and North America around 300,000 years ago. They were one-horned animals with shaggy coats of hair. They looked like the Sumatran Rhino but had a larger horn on their snout (a big protruding tooth). Fossils of woolly rhinos are found in mountains and grasslands where they used to roam. They died out 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.
Rhinoceroses are different from other animals because they have two horns on their head; one big and one small. The smallest is called a 'horn button'. Rhinos use their horns to protect themselves from other animals. They say you should never go near a rhino because they will charge and trample you to death. Rhinoceroses are very aggressive when threatened and will attack anything that comes on their territory.
In the past, there were many rhinos in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Today, however, there are less than 30k rhinos left in the wild due to increasing poaching activities.
The black and white rhino are critically endangered because they have been hunted for their horns over hundreds of years. There used to be two types of black rhino - southern and northern.
The new research uncovered a surprising lack of genetic diversity throughout the evolutionary history of rhinoceroses. As there are only 3 species left, and they are all endangered with their own genetic bottlenecks, the research improves conservation efforts.
The study was conducted in order to find out how many species of rhinoceros had existed and what geographical habitat they developed in.
Rhino species have been present for around 50 million years. The results of this study were compared to current populations, and new genetic markers are being developed.
Some fossils have been discovered with even more horns than we know today, so it is surprising that they all evolved into the 3 surviving species. This was due to changes in their habitat rather than external pressures.
The Woolly DNA was first discovered by scientists in 2003. Then, in 2010, a full woolly rhino genome was finished! This means that the whole life-cycle of this extinct specie has been studied. In the study it was revealed that there were five species and not one as originally thought. Also, they found out where the water and the savannah rhinos split from the other three species.
The study provided insight on how the genetic material of an extinct animal could be used in modern day studies. Researchers hope that studying DNA will help them understand more about diseases in human beings.
The study also gave away new details about the first encounter between humans and rhinos, as we can now see why some species were killed off to extinction while others thrived.
They studied how the climate and vegetation had affected the genetic material. The study finished when researchers were able to "map the whole genome of both living and extinct rhinoceros species".
Last but not least, this new information could change the way we protect these endangered animals as well as how we try to save some of them from extinction.