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C R Biol. 2003 Jul;326(7):687-97.

Status of the so-called African pygmy elephant (Loxodonta pumilio (NOACK 1906)): phylogeny of cytochrome b and mitochondrial control region sequences.

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  • 1FR 1541 CNRS, Service de systématique moléculaire, Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, 43, rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris, France.


Among the African elephants, it has been unanimously acknowledged that the forest elephants (cyclotis form) are peculiar, so that they have been elevated to the specific rank. The development of molecular analyses of extant Loxodonta has only focused on two forms yet: the savannah form (africana) and the forest form (cyclotis), disregarding the so-called pygmy elephants (pumilio or fransseni) the systematic status of which has been debated since their discovery. Therefore, we have sampled nine dwarfed-labelled specimens in collection and eight specimens of typical forest elephants that we compared to three savannah elephants and two Asian elephants. Because of the degraded nature of the nuclear DNA content in bone samples of old specimens, we assayed mitochondrial markers; 1961 bp of the mitochondrial genome were sequenced (over a continuous range spanning the cytochrome b gene, tRNA Thr, tRNA Pro, hypervariable region 1 and central conserved region of the control region). Pumilio and cyclotis are not sister-taxa: the phylogenetic analyses rather account for the inclusion of the so-called pygmy elephants within a monophyletic group of forest elephants sensu lato. The internal structure of this clade reveals to depend on isolation and remoteness between populations, characteristics that may have been extensively influenced by climatic variations during the Quaternary period. We conclude that the specific taxon Loxodonta pumilio (or Loxodonta fransseni) should be abandoned.

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