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Ivory poaching and the rapid evolution of tusklessness in African elephants
Science  (IF47.728),  Pub Date : 2021-10-22, DOI: 10.1126/science.abe7389
Shane C. Campbell-Staton, Brian J. Arnold, Dominique Gonçalves, Petter Granli, Joyce Poole, Ryan A. Long, Robert M. Pringle

Understanding the evolutionary consequences of wildlife exploitation is increasingly important as harvesting becomes more efficient. We examined the impacts of ivory poaching during the Mozambican Civil War (1977 to 1992) on the evolution of African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Gorongosa National Park. Poaching resulted in strong selection that favored tusklessness amid a rapid population decline. Survey data revealed tusk-inheritance patterns consistent with an X chromosome–linked dominant, male-lethal trait. Whole-genome scans implicated two candidate genes with known roles in mammalian tooth development (AMELX and MEP1a), including the formation of enamel, dentin, cementum, and the periodontium. One of these loci (AMELX) is associated with an X-linked dominant, male-lethal syndrome in humans that diminishes the growth of maxillary lateral incisors (homologous to elephant tusks). This study provides evidence for rapid, poaching-mediated selection for the loss of a prominent anatomical trait in a keystone species.