An international team of researchers compared genes of all living and extinct black rhinos. Over the last 200 years, 70% of the rhinos’ genetic diversity disappeared because of loss of habitat and hunting. Fewer than 5,000 remain.
Researchers were shocked by the magnitude of the oss of the black rhinos’ genetic diversity.
According to Professor Mike Bruford of Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, with climate change, disease and land use change all concurring, “biodiversity is going to need all the natural resilience it has to overcome the current extinction crisis.” First, you need enough individuals to survive. In the longer term, genetic diversity will become increasingly important explains Bruford.
Five black rhino gene pools remain. But genetically unique populations in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, Malawi, Angola and more, no longer exist. In the 1970s, black rhinos numbering around 70,000, were a common sight throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Widespread poaching in the 1980s sparked a population collapse. Losing genetic diversity makes it more difficult for a species to adapt to new conditions.
Genetics Professor DeWoody of Purdue University believes genetic diversity to be the ultimate measure of biodiversity and the key to long term conservation.