Scientists have used historic DNA to discover some of the highest-risk populations of the endangered dugong are so genetically distinct, losing them would be the equivalent of losing a species of elephant.
Dugong (Dugong dugon) are curious-looking medium-sized marine mammals distantly related to elephants and belonging to the Sirenia family of species which includes manatees. One of the largest dugong populations is found at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef but their range stretches from the east coast of Africa right across the Indian Ocean to the broader western Pacific.
Scientists have long known Indian Ocean dugong populations are most at risk from extinction, particularly the Madagascar dugong which this study shows is of a separate and unique genetic lineage and which diverged from other populations millions of years ago.
“Similar to New Zealand’s critically endangered Maui’s dolphin, the Madagascar dugong is genetically unique according to the work we have done, and this really confirms our worst fears in terms of their survival,” says Dr Shane Lavery from the University of Auckland who worked on the study. MORE
Header image: Julien Willem, CC 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.