Friday, January 21, 2011

Two Are Better Than One

It's been expected for a while, but nonetheless the publication of a study confirming the existence of two different species of elephant in Africa is good news.  It's good because, as the linked article points out, the previous management strategy that treated all elephants in Africa as one species put the existence of African Forest Elephant at serious risk.

I just find this stuff fascinating, personally.  The development of methods of genetic analysis for distinguishing species has led to substantial advances in taxonomy that would have taken decades using old methods.  (That may have also had a negative effect on future taxonomic research, but I suspect the concern is overblown because post-docs will seize opportunities in relatively understaffed fields once they learn about them.)  I think the next big question for taxonomists and geneticists to answer is how often are genes transferred between complex species.  This question has immediate relevance in the age of genetic engineering.

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