Distinguishing forest and savanna African elephants using short nuclear DNA sequences

Yasuko Ishida, Yirmed Demeke, Peter J. Van Coeverden De Groot, Nicholas J. Georgiadis, Keith E.A. Leggett, Virginia E. Fox, Alfred L. Roca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A more complete description of African elephant phylogeography would require a method that distinguishes forest and savanna elephants using DNA from low-quality samples. Although mitochondrial DNA is often the marker of choice for species identification, the unusual cytonuclear patterns in African elephants make nuclear markers more reliable. We therefore designed and utilized genetic markers for short nuclear DNA regions that contain fixed nucleotide differences between forest and savanna elephants. We used M13 forward and reverse sequences to increase the total length of PCR amplicons and to improve the quality of sequences for the target DNA. We successfully sequenced fragments of nuclear genes from dung samples of known savanna and forest elephants in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Namibia. Elephants at previously unexamined locations were found to have nucleotide character states consistent with their status as savanna or forest elephants. Using these and results from previous studies, we estimated that the short-amplicon nuclear markers could distinguish forest from savanna African elephants with more than 99% accuracy. Nuclear genotyping of museum, dung, or ivory samples will provide better-informed conservation management of Africa's elephants. The American Genetic Association. 2011. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com.2011

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)610-616
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Heredity
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Loxodonta
  • conservation
  • fecal DNA
  • forensics
  • systematics
  • taxonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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