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Concept: Rhinoceros


An equine SNP genotyping array was developed and evaluated on a panel of samples representing 14 domestic horse breeds and 18 evolutionarily related species. More than 54,000 polymorphic SNPs provided an average inter-SNP spacing of ∼43 kb. The mean minor allele frequency across domestic horse breeds was 0.23, and the number of polymorphic SNPs within breeds ranged from 43,287 to 52,085. Genome-wide linkage disequilibrium (LD) in most breeds declined rapidly over the first 50-100 kb and reached background levels within 1-2 Mb. The extent of LD and the level of inbreeding were highest in the Thoroughbred and lowest in the Mongolian and Quarter Horse. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) analyses demonstrated the tight grouping of individuals within most breeds, close proximity of related breeds, and less tight grouping in admixed breeds. The close relationship between the Przewalski’s Horse and the domestic horse was demonstrated by pair-wise genetic distance and MDS. Genotyping of other Perissodactyla (zebras, asses, tapirs, and rhinoceros) was variably successful, with call rates and the number of polymorphic loci varying across taxa. Parsimony analysis placed the modern horse as sister taxa to Equus przewalski. The utility of the SNP array in genome-wide association was confirmed by mapping the known recessive chestnut coat color locus (MC1R) and defining a conserved haplotype of ∼750 kb across all breeds. These results demonstrate the high quality of this SNP genotyping resource, its usefulness in diverse genome analyses of the horse, and potential use in related species.

Concepts: Genetics, Horse, Population genetics, Rhinoceros, Odd-toed ungulate, Equus, Przewalski's Horse, Tarpan


White rhinoceros (rhinos) is a keystone conservation species and also provides revenue for protection agencies. Restoring or mimicking the outcomes of impeded ecological processes allows reconciliation of biodiversity and financial objectives. We evaluate the consequences of white rhino management removal, and in recent times, poaching, on population persistence, regional conservation outcomes and opportunities for revenue generation. In Kruger National Park, white rhinos increased from 1998 to 2008. Since then the population may vary non-directionally. In 2010, we estimated 10,621 (95% CI: 8,767-12,682) white rhinos using three different population estimation methods. The desired management effect of a varying population was detectable after 2008. Age and sex structures in sink areas (focal rhino capture areas) were different from elsewhere. This comes from relatively more sub-adults being removed by managers than what the standing age distribution defined. Poachers in turn focused on more adults in 2011. Although the effect of poaching was not detectable at the population level given the confidence intervals of estimates, managers accommodated expected poaching annually and adapted management removals. The present poaching trend predicts that 432 white rhinos may be poached in Kruger during 2012. The white rhino management model mimicking outcomes of impeded ecological processes predicts 397 rhino management removals are required. At present poachers may be doing “management removals,” but conservationists have no opportunity left to contribute to regional rhino conservation strategies or generate revenue through white rhino sales. In addition, continued trends in poaching predict detectable white rhino declines in Kruger National Park by 2016. Our results suggest that conservationists need innovative approaches that reduce financial incentives to curb the threats that poaching poses to several conservation values of natural resources such as white rhinos.

Concepts: Ecology, Elephant, Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros, Black Rhinoceros, International Rhino Foundation, Northern White Rhinoceros, Terry Gerin


The black rhinoceros is again on the verge of extinction due to unsustainable poaching in its native range. Despite a wide historic distribution, the black rhinoceros was traditionally thought of as depauperate in genetic variation, and with very little known about its evolutionary history. This knowledge gap has hampered conservation efforts because hunting has dramatically reduced the species' once continuous distribution, leaving five surviving gene pools of unknown genetic affinity. Here we examined the range-wide genetic structure of historic and modern populations using the largest and most geographically representative sample of black rhinoceroses ever assembled. Using both mitochondrial and nuclear datasets, we described a staggering loss of 69% of the species' mitochondrial genetic variation, including the most ancestral lineages that are now absent from modern populations. Genetically unique populations in countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, Malawi and Angola no longer exist. We found that the historic range of the West African subspecies (D. b. longipes), declared extinct in 2011, extends into southern Kenya, where a handful of individuals survive in the Masai Mara. We also identify conservation units that will help maintain evolutionary potential. Our results suggest a complete re-evaluation of current conservation management paradigms for the black rhinoceros.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Ethiopia, Population genetics, Extinction, Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros, Black Rhinoceros


The vertebrate extinction rate over the past century is approximately 22-100 times greater than background extinction rates [1], and large mammals are particularly at risk [2, 3]. Quaternary megafaunal extinctions have been attributed to climate change [4], overexploitation [5], or a combination of the two [6]. Rhinoceroses (Family: Rhinocerotidae) have a rich fossil history replete with iconic examples of climate-induced extinctions [7], but current pressures threaten to eliminate this group entirely. The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is among the most imperiled mammals on earth. The 2011 population was estimated at ≤216 wild individuals [8], and currently the species is extirpated, or nearly so, throughout the majority of its former range [8-12]. Understanding demographic history is important in placing current population status into a broader ecological and evolutionary context. Analysis of the Sumatran rhinoceros genome reveals extreme changes in effective population size throughout the Pleistocene. Population expansion during the early to middle Pleistocene was followed by decline. Ecological niche modeling indicated that changing climate most likely played a role in the decline of the Sumatran rhinoceros, as less suitable habitat on an emergent Sundaland corridor isolated Sumatran rhinoceros populations. By the end of the Pleistocene, the Sundaland corridor was submerged, and populations were fragmented and consequently reduced to low Holocene levels from which they would never recover. Past events denuded the Sumatran rhinoceros of genetic diversity through population decline, fragmentation, or some combination of the two and most likely made the species even more susceptible to later exploitation and habitat loss.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Population ecology, Ecology, Extinction, Rhinoceros, Megafauna, Sumatran Rhinoceros


With only three living individuals left on this planet, the northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) could be considered doomed for extinction. It might still be possible, however, to rescue the (sub)species by combining novel stem cell and assisted reproductive technologies. To discuss the various practical options available to us, we convened a multidisciplinary meeting under the name “Conservation by Cellular Technologies.” The outcome of this meeting and the proposed road map that, if successfully implemented, would ultimately lead to a self-sustaining population of an extremely endangered species are outlined here. The ideas discussed here, while centered on the northern white rhinoceros, are equally applicable, after proper adjustments, to other mammals on the brink of extinction. Through implementation of these ideas we hope to establish the foundation for reversal of some of the effects of what has been termed the sixth mass extinction event in the history of Earth, and the first anthropogenic one. Zoo Biol. XX:XX-XX, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Species, Extinction, Rhinoceros, Dinosaur, White Rhinoceros, Rhinoceroses, Extinction event, Northern White Rhinoceros


Mammals as a rule have seven cervical vertebrae, a number that remains remarkably constant. Changes of this number are associated with major congenital abnormalities (pleiotropic effects) that are, at least in humans, strongly selected against. Recently, it was found that Late Pleistocene mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) from the North Sea have an unusually high incidence of abnormal cervical vertebral numbers, approximately ten times higher than that of extant elephants. Abnormal numbers were due to the presence of large cervical ribs on the seventh vertebra, indicating a homeotic change from a cervical rib-less vertebra into a thoracic rib-bearing vertebra. The high incidence of cervical ribs indicates a vulnerable condition and is thought to be due to inbreeding and adverse conditions that may have impacted early pregnancies in declining populations. In this study we investigated the incidence of cervical ribs in another extinct Late Pleistocene megaherbivore from the North Sea and the Netherlands, the woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis). We show that the incidence of abnormal cervical vertebral numbers in the woolly rhinoceros is unusually high for mammals (15,6%, n = 32) and much higher than in extant Rhinoceratidae (0%, n = 56). This indicates that woolly rhinoceros lived under vulnerable conditions, just like woolly mammoths. The vulnerable condition may well have contributed to their eventual extinction.

Concepts: Vertebra, Extinction, Cervical vertebrae, Rhinoceros, Megafauna, Mammoth, Woolly mammoth, Pleistocene megafauna


Individual elements of many extinct and extant North American rhinocerotids display osteopathologies, particularly exostoses, abnormal textures, and joint margin porosity, that are commonly associated with localized bone trauma. When we evaluated six extinct rhinocerotid species spanning 50 million years (Ma), we found the incidence of osteopathology increases from 28% of all elements of Eocene Hyrachyus eximius to 65-80% of all elements in more derived species. The only extant species in this study, Diceros bicornis, displayed less osteopathologies (50%) than the more derived extinct taxa. To get a finer-grained picture, we scored each fossil for seven pathological indicators on a scale of 1-4. We estimated the average mass of each taxon using M1-3 length and compared mass to average pathological score for each category. We found that with increasing mass, osteopathology also significantly increases. We then ran a phylogenetically-controlled regression analysis using a time-calibrated phylogeny of our study taxa. Mass estimates were found to significantly covary with abnormal foramen shape and abnormal bone textures. This pattern in osteopathological expression may reflect a part of the complex system of adaptations in the Rhinocerotidae over millions of years, where increased mass, cursoriality, and/or increased life span are selected for, to the detriment of long-term bone health. This work has important implications for the future health of hoofed animals and humans alike.

Concepts: Evolution, Phylogenetic nomenclature, Cladistics, Extinction, Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros, Black Rhinoceros, Extant taxon


White rhinoceros ejaculates (n=9) collected by electroejaculation from four males were shipped (10°C, 12h) to develop procedures for the production of chilled and frozen-thawed sex-sorted spermatozoa of adequate quality for artificial insemination (AI). Of all electroejaculate fractions, 39.7% (31/78) exhibited high quality post-collection (≥70% total motility and membrane integrity) and of those, 54.8% (17/31) presented reduced in vitro quality after transport and were retrospectively determined to exhibit urine-contamination (≥21.0μg creatinine/ml). Of fractions analyzed for creatinine concentration, 69% (44/64) were classified as urine-contaminated. For high quality non-contaminated fractions, in vitro parameters (motility, velocity, membrane, acrosome and DNA integrity) of chilled non-sorted and sorted spermatozoa were well-maintained at 5°C up to 54h post-collection, whereby >70% of post-transport (non-sorted) or post-sort (sorted) values were retained. By 54h post-collection, some motility parameters were higher (P<0.05) for non-sorted spermatozoa (total motility, rapid velocity, average path velocity) whereas all remaining motion parameters as well as membrane, acrosome and DNA integrity were similar between sperm types. In comparison with a straw method, directional freezing resulted in enhanced (P<0.05) motility and velocity of non-sorted and sorted spermatozoa, with comparable overall post-thaw quality between sperm types. High purity enrichment of X-bearing (89±6%) or Y-bearing (86±3%) spermatozoa was achieved using moderate sorting rates (2540±498X-spermatozoa/s; 1800±557Y-spermatozoa/s). Collective in vitro characteristics of sorted-chilled or sorted-frozen-thawed spermatozoa derived from high quality electroejaculates indicate acceptable fertility potential for use in AI.

Concepts: Spermatozoon, Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros, Black Rhinoceros, International Rhino Foundation, Northern White Rhinoceros, Southern White Rhinoceros, Ceratotherium neumayri


In the 200 years since the Sumatran rhinoceros was first scientifically described (Fisher 1814), the range of the species has contracted from a broad region in Southeast Asia to three areas on the island of Sumatra and one in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Assessing population and spatial distribution of this very rare species is challenging because of their elusiveness and very low population number. Using an occupancy model with spatial dependency, we assessed the fraction of the total landscape occupied by Sumatran rhinos over a 30,345-km2 survey area and the effects of covariates in the areas where they are known to occur. In the Leuser Landscape (surveyed in 2007), the model averaging result of conditional occupancy estimate was [Formula: see text] or 2,371.47 km2, and the model averaging result of replicated level detection probability [Formula: see text]; in Way Kambas National Park-2008: [Formula: see text] or 634.18 km2, and [Formula: see text]; and in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park-2010: [Formula: see text] or 819.67 km2, and [Formula: see text]. In the Leuser Landscape, rhino occurrence was positively associated with primary dry land forest and rivers, and negatively associated with the presence of a road. In Way Kambas, occurrence was negatively associated with the presence of a road. In Bukit Barisan Selatan, occurrence was negatively associated with presence of primary dryland forest and rivers. Using the probabilities of site occupancy, we developed spatially explicit maps that can be used to outline intensive protection zones for in-situ conservation efforts, and provide a detailed assessment of conserving Sumatran rhinos in the wild. We summarize our core recommendation in four points: consolidate small population, strong protection, determine the percentage of breeding females, and recognize the cost of doing nothing. To reduce the probability of poaching, here we present only the randomized location of site level occupancy in our result while retaining the overall estimation of occupancy for a given area.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Borneo, Rhinoceros, Landscape, Terry Gerin, Sumatra, Sumatran Rhinoceros


MC5R is one of five melanocortin receptor genes found in placental mammals. MC5R plays an important role in energy homeostasis and is also expressed in the terminal differentiation of sebaceous glands. Among placental mammals there are multiple lineages that either lack or have degenerative sebaceous glands including Cetacea (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), Hippopotamidae (hippopotamuses), Sirenia (manatees and dugongs), Proboscidea (elephants), Rhinocerotidae (rhinos), and Heterocephalus glaber (naked mole rat). Given the loss or diminution of sebaceous glands in these taxa, we procured MC5R sequences from publicly available genomes and transcriptomes, supplemented by a newly generated sequence for Choeropsis liberiensis (pygmy hippopotamus), to determine if this gene remains intact or is inactivated in association with loss/reduction of sebaceous glands. Our data set includes complete MC5R sequences for 114 placental mammal species including two individuals of Mammuthus primigenius (woolly mammoth) from Oimyakon and Wrangel Island. Complete loss or inactivation of the MC5R gene occurs in multiple placental lineages that have lost sebaceous glands (Cetacea, West Indian manatee, African elephant, white rhinoceros) or are characterized by unusual skin (pangolins, aardvarks). Both M. primigenius individuals share inactivating mutations with the African elephant even though sebaceous glands have been reported in the former. MC5R remains intact in hippopotamuses and the naked mole rat, although slightly elevated dN/dS ratios in these lineages allow for the possibility that the accumulation of inactivating mutations in MC5R may lag behind the relaxation of purifying selection. For Cetacea and Hippopotamidae, the absence of shared inactivating mutations in two different skin genes (MC5R, PSORS1C2) is consistent with the hypothesis that semi-aquatic lifestyles were acquired independently in these clades following divergence from a common ancestor.

Concepts: Mammal, Elephant, Hippopotamus, Rhinoceros, Naked mole rat, Sirenia, Afrotheria, Woolly mammoth