Sumatran rhinos show low inbreeding — but when it happens, collapse is quick

The outlook is bleak for Sumatran rhinos. Decades of poaching and habitat loss have precipitated a steep population decline. Once found across Southeast Asia, from the Himalayan foothills to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, the critically endangered species, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, is now only found in Indonesia. Conservationists estimate that fewer than 100 individuals survive in the wild, living in isolated pockets of forest. Their rapidly diminishing population, extreme isolation from one another and poor reproductive success have raised fears that the remaining rhinos are likely to suffer from inbreeding problems associated with erosion of genetic diversity. A new study, published this week in Nature Communications, affords rhino conservationists some respite. The study, led by the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm and an international team of researchers, revealed that the remaining populations of Sumatran rhinos in Borneo and Sumatra exhibit low levels of inbreeding and higher-than-expected genetic diversity. “We were really surprised,” says Johanna von Seth, a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Palaeogenetics and co-lead author of the study. “In terms of genetics, these are the best results we could have gotten.” It is good news for conservation management of the remaining populations, since it implies that there is still time to preserve the species’ genetic diversity. Love Dalén, professor of evolutionary genetics at the Centre for Palaeogenetics and co-author, says the findings suggest the remaining rhinos still have the “toolbox” to be able to handle disease threats and future changes in climate and the environment. “It means that…This article was originally published on Mongabay

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