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PLoS One. 2010 Apr 7;5(4):e9703. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009703.

The sixth rhino: a taxonomic re-assessment of the critically endangered northern white rhinoceros.

Author information

  • 1School of Archaeology & Anthropology, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia. Colin.Groves@anu.edu.au

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The two forms of white rhinoceros; northern and southern, have had contrasting conservation histories. The Northern form, once fairly numerous is now critically endangered, while the southern form has recovered from a few individuals to a population of a few thousand. Since their last taxonomic assessment over three decades ago, new material and analytical techniques have become available, necessitating a review of available information and re-assessment of the taxonomy.

RESULTS:

Dental morphology and cranial anatomy clearly diagnosed the southern and northern forms. The differentiation was well supported by dental metrics, cranial growth and craniometry, and corresponded with differences in post-cranial skeleton, external measurements and external features. No distinctive differences were found in the limited descriptions of their behavior and ecology. Fossil history indicated the antiquity of the genus, dating back at least to early Pliocene and evolution into a number of diagnosable forms. The fossil skulls examined fell outside the two extant forms in the craniometric analysis. Genetic divergence between the two forms was consistent across both nuclear and mitochondrial genomes, and indicated a separation of over a million years.

CONCLUSIONS:

On re-assessing the taxonomy of the two forms we find them to be morphologically and genetically distinct, warranting the recognition of the taxa formerly designated as subspecies; Ceratotherium simum simum the southern form and Ceratotherium simum cottoni the northern form, as two distinct species Ceratotherium simum and Ceratotherium cottoni respectively. The recognition of the northern form as a distinct species has profound implications for its conservation.

PMID:
20383328
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2850923
Free PMC Article

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