Poaching Drove Mozambique Elephants to Evolve Without Tusks, Study Finds
During Mozambique’s civil war from 1977 to 1992, around 90 percent of the elephants in what is now the Gorongosa National Park were poached for ivory to finance the conflict.
This widespread slaughter led to rapid evolution in the span of one generation. Before the conflict, less than a fifth of female elephants were born without tusks. Afterwards, half of the female elephants in the area were tuskless. Now, a study published in Science Friday has revealed some of the genetics behind this astonishing change.
“They’ve produced the smoking-gun evidence for genetic changes,” University of Victoria in Canada conservation scientist Chris Darimont, who was not involved with the study, told The AP. The study, he said, “helps scientists and the public understand how our society can have a major influence on the evolution of other life forms.”
An elephant’s tusks are essentially a pair of large teeth, and typically both female and male elephants are born with them, The New York Times explained. In a well-protected elephant population, tusklessness occurs at around two percent, but it can soar in communities that experience poaching. Scientists have also observed larger concentrations of tuskless elephants in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya after periods of intense poaching, The AP reported.
To confirm that this was the work of evolution, and not merely chance, the researchers ran a mathematical model, The New York Times reported. They found that tuskless elephants were five times more likely to survive during the fighting, bolstering the evidence that this is natural selection at work. But the researchers had another mystery to solve: the tuskless elephants were all females.
Source : www.ecowatch.com