Genomic Analysis of Demographic History and Ecological Niche Modeling in the Endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis

Herman L. Mays*, Chih Ming Hung, Pei Jen Shaner, James Denvir, Megan Justice, Shang Fang Yang, Terri L. Roth, David A. Oehler, Jun Fan, Swanthana Rekulapally, Donald A. Primerano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


The vertebrate extinction rate over the past century is approximately 22–100 times greater than background extinction rates [1], and large mammals are particularly at risk [2, 3]. Quaternary megafaunal extinctions have been attributed to climate change [4], overexploitation [5], or a combination of the two [6]. Rhinoceroses (Family: Rhinocerotidae) have a rich fossil history replete with iconic examples of climate-induced extinctions [7], but current pressures threaten to eliminate this group entirely. The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is among the most imperiled mammals on earth. The 2011 population was estimated at ≤216 wild individuals [8], and currently the species is extirpated, or nearly so, throughout the majority of its former range [8–12]. Understanding demographic history is important in placing current population status into a broader ecological and evolutionary context. Analysis of the Sumatran rhinoceros genome reveals extreme changes in effective population size throughout the Pleistocene. Population expansion during the early to middle Pleistocene was followed by decline. Ecological niche modeling indicated that changing climate most likely played a role in the decline of the Sumatran rhinoceros, as less suitable habitat on an emergent Sundaland corridor isolated Sumatran rhinoceros populations. By the end of the Pleistocene, the Sundaland corridor was submerged, and populations were fragmented and consequently reduced to low Holocene levels from which they would never recover. Past events denuded the Sumatran rhinoceros of genetic diversity through population decline, fragmentation, or some combination of the two and most likely made the species even more susceptible to later exploitation and habitat loss. Video Abstract: Mays et al. report the first genome sequence for the Sumatran rhinoceros. Genomic analysis reveals a fluctuating population history, ending at low levels by the end of the Pleistocene. Ecological niche models suggest that changing climate during the Pleistocene influenced habitat availability and most likely led to declining or fragmented populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-76.e4
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jan 8


  • Pleistocene
  • Sundaland
  • demography
  • ecological niche modeling
  • evolution
  • pairwise sequentially Markovian coalescent
  • rhinoceros
  • whole-genome sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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