December 20, 2012

Chinese elephant species went extinct only 3000 years ago

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And not 10,000 as it was believed until now.

Researchers have found that the elephant that existed in North China until c. 3000 years ago was not the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) but another species that was believed extinct much earlier Paleoloxodon sp. or straight tusked elephant. The species or a closely related one went extinct in Europe some 30,000 years ago but survived in East Asia until... now we know that until the Iron Age in fact.

According to the BBC:

To investigate whether these mammals continued to live beyond the Pleistocene epoch and into the Holocene (the current geological epoch), the team re-examined fossilised elephant teeth discovered in Holocene layers of rock in North China during the 1900s.

And found them to be unmistakably Paleoloxodon, not Elephas.

Interestingly, the evidence was also in bronze art from the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties, which depicted elephants with two "fingers" in their trunks, like the African elephants but never the Asian ones.

Ref. Ji Li et al., The latest straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxodon)? “Wild elephants” lived 3000 years ago in North China. Quaternary International 2012. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2011.10.039].


14 comments:

  1. "And found them to be unmistakably Paleoloxodon, not Elephas. Interestingly, the evidence was also in bronze art from the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties, which depicted elephants with two 'fingers' in their trunks, like the African elephants but never the Asian ones".

    Hmmm. So even elephants had difficulty moving through the jungle-clad mountains between India and China.

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    1. Nope. They had and still have difficulties with climate: Asian elephants existed and do still exist in South China but could never colonize the colder climate of the North.

      Delete
  2. "Asian elephants existed and do still exist in South China but could never colonize the colder climate of the North".

    Only in Southern Yunnan evidently:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_elephant

    Quote:

    "In China, Asian elephants survive only in the prefectures of Xishuangbanna, Simao, and Lincang of southern Yunnan".

    And look at the distribution map in the link.

    "They had and still have difficulties with climate"

    That's hard to believe. From the same link:

    "Over this range of habitat types elephants are seen from sea level to over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). In the Eastern Himalaya in northeast India, they regularly move up above 3,000 m (9,800 ft) in summer at a few sites".

    And let's not forget that mammoths are quite possibly basically a variety of the Asian elephant:

    http://elephant.elehost.com/About_Elephants/Stories/Evolution/evolution.html

    "Interestingly, the Asian elephant is more closely related to the extinct mammoth than to the African elephant".

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    1. Have you even read the paper: I'm just repeating here what the authors say. I just can't believe your confrontational anxiety... please!

      "... mammoths are quite possibly basically a variety of the Asian elephant"

      Paleoloxodons were not mammoths. Based on the "two finger" description I'm inclined to think them more closely related to the African elephants who also have two "fingertips" in their trunks (but I'll let specialized biologists decide, of course).

      Delete
  3. "Have you even read the paper"

    No I haven't. But either the information has been out for a long time or someone has very promptly altered Wiki:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_elephant

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palaeoloxodon

    And here is a bit more information about the paper:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/20678793

    "Paleoloxodons were not mammoths".

    I never said they were. My point was that the mammoth is reasonably closely related to the Asian elephant and so the Asian elephant should have no trouble surviving in colder regions than it does today. 'Climate' is unlikely to be the reason for the Asian elephant's almost complete absence in China.

    "Based on the 'two finger' description I'm inclined to think them more closely related to the African elephants who also have two 'fingertips' in their trunks (but I'll let specialized biologists decide, of course)".

    I would be inclined to agree but the Palaeoloxodon link actually claims:

    "Palaeoloxodon was previously thought to be a subgenus of Elephas, but this was abandoned by 2007.[2] It is more closely related to the Asian Elephant than the Asian is to the two species of African elephants in genus Loxodonta".

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    1. FYI: there's one subpage in each Wikipedia article which is the "history": you can see there all previous versions and when it was edited, by whom, what changes it made, etc. And indeed they have been promptly changed on light of the new data in the last few days.

      This paper appears to show that the elephant of Northern China was not E. maximus, as was believed until now, but Paleololoxodon sp. I thought for a moment it was open access but nope. I was founding my notions on the abstract and the news article only.

      "My point was that the mammoth is reasonably closely related to the Asian elephant and so the Asian elephant should have no trouble surviving in colder regions than it does today. 'Climate' is unlikely to be the reason for the Asian elephant's almost complete absence in China".

      Actually they seem to have existed all the way to Central China (vide Wikipedia) but not further North. The abstract reads (why do I have to feed you info to the mouth as if you'd be a baby?):

      Large quantities of archeology and literature records indicate that during the Shang Dynasty and a part of the Zhou Dynasty of Chinese history, about 2000 BC to 1000 BC, there once were wild elephants living in North China. For a long time, it was believed that all of these elephants belonged to the species Elephas maximus. Many scholars suggested that this phenomenon could show a much higher temperature at that time. However, as the research of Chinese historical climate has already indicated, even in the Megathermal Maximum, most of the parts of North China were still controlled by the climate of the Warm Temperate Zone, not the Subtropic Zone. This paper presents evidence suggesting that the so-called “wild elephants” in North China during that time belonged to Palaeoloxodon sp., not E. maximus.

      Delete
  4. "Actually they seem to have existed all the way to Central China (vide Wikipedia) but not further North".

    Further north they were replaced by several mammoth species.

    "The abstract reads (why do I have to feed you info to the mouth as if you'd be a baby?)"

    Maju, we already knew that from your blog on the Three Gorges region. In other words I so much accepted it that I thought it wasn't worth mentioning.

    "This paper appears to show that the elephant of Northern China was not E. maximus, as was believed until now, but Paleololoxodon sp."

    Your original blog says that so I don't see why you appear to be surprised. The latest information could add a lot about elephant evolution this link provides:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant

    "The third radiation started in the late Miocene and led to the arrival of the elephantids, which descended from, and slowly replaced, the gomphotheres.[36] The African Primelephas gomphotheroides gave rise to Loxodonta, Mammuthus and Elephas. Loxodonta branched off earliest, around the Miocene and Pliocene boundary, while Mammuthus and Elephas came later during the early Pliocene. Loxodonta remained in Africa, while Mammuthus and Elephas spread to Eurasia, and the former reached North America".

    The two fingers may indicate that Palaeoloxodon branched off just after Loxodonta had and held onto the two fingers. Palaeoloxodon would have spread out of Africa and then into Central Asia, from where it moved east and west, but not into South Asia. South Asia perhaps was difficult of entry.

    "At the beginning of the Pleistocene, elephantids experienced a high rate of speciation. Loxodonta atlantica became the most common species in northern and southern Africa before being replaced by Elephas iolensis later in the Pleistocene. Only when Elephas became extinct in Africa did Loxodonta become dominant once again, this time in the form of the modern species. Elephas would diversify into new species in Asia, such as E. hysudricus and E. platycephus;[38] the latter is the likely ancestor of the modern Asian elephant.[39] Mammuthus evolved into several species, including the well-known woolly mammoth".

    The beginning of the Pleistocene is around 2 million years ago, about the time H. erectus moved out of Africa. Palaeoloxodon may have been part of that diversification too. So the elephants had three routes from Africa: into South Asia, into Central Asia and further north into the tundra zone.

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    1. "Further north they were replaced by several mammoth species. "

      No!

      Further north, in North China, was Paleoloxodon sp. as we have got to know no. In Central and Southern China was Elephas maximus (or Elephas sp.), which hegemonized tropical and subtropical Asia. Today Elephas may only survive in some pockets of Yunnan but earlier it existed all the way to Shanghai. At least that is what the abstract says.

      Delete
  5. "Further north, in North China, was Paleoloxodon sp"

    And further north than Paleoloxodon were 'several mammoth species'. Wake up yopur ideas Maju.

    "In Central and Southern China was Elephas maximus (or Elephas sp.)"

    You have not read a single link I've posted. Paleoloxodon was present in Central and Southern China also. Elephas was present only in the extreme southwest of Yunnan.

    "Today Elephas may only survive in some pockets of Yunnan but earlier it existed all the way to Shanghai. At least that is what the abstract says".

    The abstract does not say that. What it says is:

    " For a long time, it was believed that all of these elephants belonged to the species Elephas maximus. ... This paper presents evidence suggesting that the so-called 'wild elephants' in North China during that time belonged to Palaeoloxodon sp., not E. maximus".

    Nothing about the elephants in Shanghai. And you wrote:

    "Interestingly, the evidence was also in bronze art from the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties, which depicted elephants with two 'fingers' in their trunks, like the African elephants but never the Asian ones"

    Presumably these bronzes from Central China are representative of the elephants that lived nearby at the time, so they are not 'Asian' elephants. As for your belief that Elephas could not survive the climate of China, take a look at this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_elephant

    Quote:

    "Skeletal remains of E. m. asurus have been recorded from the Middle East (Turkey, Iraq and Syria) from periods dating between 3 million years BC and 100 years BC."

    Some of that expanse is certainly no warmer than is much of China. So it was not climate that prevente Elephas gaining a foothold in China. Another example of the apparent relative impermeability of the Zoia region is provided by a most unlikely source: dabbling ducks. Have a look at this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spot-billed_Duck

    "It has three subspecies: the Indian Spot-billed Duck (A. poecilorhyncha poecilorhyncha), Eastern Spot-billed Duck (A. poecilorhyncha zonorhyncha), and Burmese Spot-billed Duck (A. poecilorhyncha haringtoni)".

    But of those three subspecies the one east of Zomia is the most different:

    "The Eastern Spot-billed Duck is darker and browner; its body plumage is more similar to the Pacific Black Duck. It lacks the red bill spot, and has a blue speculum".

    "The Eastern Spotbill is often considered a distinct species by many taxonomists. (e.g. Johnson & Sorenson 1999)"

    Now, I know it is surprising that even ducks have difficulty maintaing gene flow across Zomia but that seems to be the case.

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    1. The only thing that your links say is that today, E. maximus has been cornered in some pockets of Yunnan.

      http://www.123rf.com/photo_9287842_asian-elephant-range.html

      http://www.123rf.com/photo_9287805_asian-elephant-range.html

      http://mardfar.webs.com/800px-Elephas_Maximus_distribution_evolution_map_svg.JPG

      The abstract explains why the authors suspected it was not as far north as North China:

      Large quantities of archeology and literature records indicate that during the Shang Dynasty and a part of the Zhou Dynasty of Chinese history, about 2000 BC to 1000 BC, there once were wild elephants living in North China. For a long time, it was believed that all of these elephants belonged to the species Elephas maximus. Many scholars suggested that this phenomenon could show a much higher temperature at that time. However, as the research of Chinese historical climate has already indicated, even in the Megathermal Maximum, most of the parts of North China were still controlled by the climate of the Warm Temperate Zone, not the Subtropic Zone. This paper presents evidence suggesting that the so-called “wild elephants” in North China during that time belonged to Palaeoloxodon sp., not E. maximus.

      Delete
  6. Your links are very unconvincing as to the presence of Elephas in China other than in the extreme southwest. In fact this one:

    http://mardfar.webs.com/800px-Elephas_Maximus_distribution_evolution_map_svg.JPG

    Has Elephas present in the region where the present paper claims to have proved that what was thought to be Elephas was in fact Palaeoloxodon.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Why all largest animals living near the equator currently?

    While, the largest animals have lived in most places of the world in the past.

    How do you explain it?

    This is why tall and big animals such as giraffe and elephant can only live in equatorial points of earth, because of less gravity in there (little amount) than other places and their heart can send blood to farther distances from the surface of earth. So in practice we see that much little increase of gravity has noteworthy effect in animal bulk/stature.

    http://mardfar.webs.com/bloodsystemgravity.htm

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    1. Doesn't make any sense, sorry: 320 gr are absolutely meaningless compared to the overall elephant weight. Multiplying it for the time of an elephant's life is just a ridiculously way of magnifying what is actually meaningless. Also think that large animals retain more heat and are therefore, in general terms, more apt for cold areas. I can even think that, as mammoths and other subarctic elephants did not need to refrigerate their bodies by means of pumping blood to their (rather small) ears, they would more than compensate for the need to pump a ridiculous 320 gr of blood per day, which is probably done just to refrigerate elephants in hot latitudes.

      In the past in any case there's been woolly rhinoceros and mammoths in subarctic regions... so it simply makes no sense whatsoever, Ramin.

      Delete
    2. And whales too, of course.

      Where's the tropical bear? And the tropical bison? Nope, sorry, nope.

      The only reason why elephants and some other large mammals survived in tropical areas is probably because they had much greater genetic diversity to begin with and maybe the climate was in general terms more stable.

      Delete

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