The population history of extant and extinct hyenas

Mol Biol Evol. 2005 Dec;22(12):2435-43. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msi244. Epub 2005 Aug 24.


We have analyzed partial DNA sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene from extant striped, brown, and spotted hyenas as well as from Pleistocene cave hyenas. Sequences of the Pleistocene cave hyenas from Eurasia and modern spotted hyenas from Africa are intermixed in phylogenetic analyses, questioning any taxonomic delineation between the two groups. Contrary to cave hyenas in Eurasia, spotted hyenas in Africa show a phylogeographic pattern with little geographical overlap between two mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) clades, suggesting two Pleistocene refugia in the north and south of Africa. Our results, furthermore, suggest three waves of migration from Africa to Eurasia for spotted hyenas, around 3, 1, and 0.3 MYA. A recent emigration of striped hyenas from Africa to Eurasia took place less than 0.1 MYA, resulting in a dramatic expansion of the geographical range of striped hyenas. In striped hyenas and within the geographical range of mtDNA clades in spotted hyenas, we found identical sequences several thousand kilometers apart, indicating a high rate of migration during the Pleistocene as well as the Holocene. Both striped and brown hyenas show low amounts of genetic diversity, with the latter ones displaying just a single haplotype.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Animal Migration*
  • Animals
  • Asia
  • Cytochromes b / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / analysis*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / isolation & purification
  • Europe
  • Genetic Variation
  • Haplotypes
  • Hyaenidae / genetics*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Cytochromes b