Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How did elephants get to Borneo? Scientists compare theories

Researchers believe they may have solved the mystery surrounding the origins of the Bornean elephant.

A team of scientists from Cardiff University joined forces with other experts from across the globe to tackle the conundrum of how the endangered species of mammal came to live on the south Pacific island.

The group used genetic data analysis and computational modelling to study the history of the elephants and found they might have migrated between the Sunda Islands in Southeast Asia during low sea levels.

The Bornean elephant is a subspecies of Asian elephant that only exists in a small region of Borneo, and until recently there were two opposing theories about their origin.

Dr Benoit Goossens, from Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, said: “It has been thought that the Bornean elephant could have either been recently introduced by humans around 300 years ago, or they could have diverged from Asian elephants a long time ago.

“Historical records do show that neighbouring Sultans offered elephants as gifts to the Bornean Sultan in the 17th century and therefore current elephants could be non-native elephants that have become feral.

“There is also genetic research that demonstrated that Bornean elephants are very different from that of the other Asian elephants, suggesting that there was an ancient separation, possibly around 300,000 years ago.”

Dr Goossens said there was evidence for both theories but his colleague in the research, Rita Sharma, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia, in Portugal, said their study had shown the likely answer was that the subspecies had naturally colonised Borneo around 11,400 to 18,300 years ago.