Ancient and modern genomes unravel the evolutionary history of the rhinoceros family

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


  • Nicolas Dussex
  • Kieren J. Mitchell
  • Peter D. Heintzman
  • Joshua D. Kapp
  • Johanna von Seth
  • Holly Heiniger
  • Fátima Sánchez-Barreiro
  • Remi André-Olsen
  • Guanliang Meng
  • Chentao Yang
  • Lei Chen
  • Tom van der Valk
  • Yoshan Moodley
  • Kees Rookmaaker
  • Michael W. Bruford
  • Oliver Ryder
  • Cynthia Steiner
  • Linda G. R. Bruins-van Sonsbeek
  • Sergey Vartanyan
  • Chunxue Guo
  • Alan Cooper
  • Pavel Kosintsev
  • Irina Kirillova
  • Adrian M. Lister
  • Tomas Marques-Bonet
  • Beth Shapiro
  • Pierre Olivier Antoine
  • Love Dalén

Only five species of the once-diverse Rhinocerotidae remain, making the reconstruction of their evolutionary history a challenge to biologists since Darwin. We sequenced genomes from five rhinoceros species (three extinct and two living), which we compared to existing data from the remaining three living species and a range of outgroups. We identify an early divergence between extant African and Eurasian lineages, resolving a key debate regarding the phylogeny of extant rhinoceroses. This early Miocene (∼16 million years ago [mya]) split post-dates the land bridge formation between the Afro-Arabian and Eurasian landmasses. Our analyses also show that while rhinoceros genomes in general exhibit low levels of genome-wide diversity, heterozygosity is lowest and inbreeding is highest in the modern species. These results suggest that while low genetic diversity is a long-term feature of the family, it has been particularly exacerbated recently, likely reflecting recent anthropogenic-driven population declines.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number19
Pages (from-to)4874-4885.e16
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors

    Research areas

  • Rhinoceros, Perissodactyl, Conservation genomics, Phylogenomics, Genomic diversity

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