Genomic DNA sequences from mastodon and woolly mammoth reveal deep speciation of forest and savanna elephants

PLoS Biol. 2010 Dec 21;8(12):e1000564. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000564.


To elucidate the history of living and extinct elephantids, we generated 39,763 bp of aligned nuclear DNA sequence across 375 loci for African savanna elephant, African forest elephant, Asian elephant, the extinct American mastodon, and the woolly mammoth. Our data establish that the Asian elephant is the closest living relative of the extinct mammoth in the nuclear genome, extending previous findings from mitochondrial DNA analyses. We also find that savanna and forest elephants, which some have argued are the same species, are as or more divergent in the nuclear genome as mammoths and Asian elephants, which are considered to be distinct genera, thus resolving a long-standing debate about the appropriate taxonomic classification of the African elephants. Finally, we document a much larger effective population size in forest elephants compared with the other elephantid taxa, likely reflecting species differences in ancient geographic structure and range and differences in life history traits such as variance in male reproductive success.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Elephants / classification
  • Elephants / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Female
  • Fossils*
  • Genome*
  • Male
  • Mammoths / classification
  • Mammoths / genetics*
  • Mastodons / classification
  • Mastodons / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Population Density
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA*