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SPECIES VARIATION - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment (Editorial Overview Text Replicated on Overall Species page - Asian Elephant - Elephas maximus)
  • Four subspecies may be valid: Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, Elephas maximus summatranus from Sumatra, Bornean elephants Elephas maximus borneensis (based on recent DNA analysis) and Elephas maximus indicus, including all elephants from mainland Asia.

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Intraspecific Variation

Source Information
  • There may be three valid subspecies: Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, Elephas maximus summatranus from Sumatra, and Elephas maximus indicus, including all elephants from mainland Asia. Other subspecific division in extant populations are doubtful, although there may have been other island or otherwise isolated subspecies previously. (B451.1.w1)
  • Three subspecies are recognised: Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, Elephas maximus indicus from mainland Asia and Elephas maximus sumatranus in Sumatra. An analysis of mitochondrial DNA of 118 free-ranging elephants from Sri Lanka, Bhutan/North India and Laos/Vietnam showed low genetic diversity within Asian elephants. Seventeen haplotypes were detected. There was little genetic differentiation between mainland populations from Bhutan, India, Laos and Vietnam, although there was a significant difference in haplotype frequencies between Bhutan/India versus Laos/Vietnam. There were significant genetic differentiations between the mainland and Sri Lanka and between northern, mid-latitude and southern regions within Sri Lanka. Two haplotypes shared between mainland and Sri Lankan elephants were found, but it was noted that "subspecies and distinct taxa may exhibit shared mtDNA polymorphism" and that rejecting the sub-specific distinction of Sri Lankan elephants is not warranted, given both morphological distinctions and previous allozyme findings of high genetic differentiation. It was also noted that the Sri Lankan lineage could have diverged from the mainland lineage during a long period of isolation of Sri Lanka from the mainland, in geological time, with gene flow occurring during more (geologically) recent reconnection events, giving the present haplotype distribution. The relatively high levels of differentiation between areas of Sri Lanka may be explained by the known social organisation and behaviour of female elephant groups [see: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Social Behaviour - Territoriality - Predation - Learning (Literature Reports)]. (J406.84.w1)
  • Three subspecies have been recognised based on body size, slight differences in colouration and, for Elephas maximus summatranus, an extra pair of ribs and relatively larger ears. A phylogenetic study of Asian elephants from Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia confirmed the existence of the Sumatran subspecies, Elephas maximus summatranus, as being monophyletic and diagnosable, but did not support the Sri Lankan subspecies bassed on current patterns of mitochondrial DNA variation. (J407.55.w1)
  • Mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA analysis indicated that elephants from Borneo are genetically distinct from those elsewhere in Asia, indicating that the population is native, not introduced to Borneo, and might be considered as a separate subspecies, Elephas maximus borneensis. Further work is required. (J363.1.w1)

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Authors & Referees

Authors Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Susan K. Mikota DVM (V.w72)

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