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Science

Giraffes May Be Six Separate Species 239

Posted by kdawson
from the neck-and-neck dept.
The BBC reports on research, published in BMC Biology, pointing to the possibility that there may be at least six species of giraffe in Africa. Quoting: "'Using molecular techniques we found that giraffes can be classified into six groups that are reproductively isolated and not interbreeding,' David Brown, the lead author of the study and a geneticist at... UCLA told BBC News. 'The results were a surprise because although the giraffes look different, if you put them in zoos, they breed freely.'"
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Giraffes May Be Six Separate Species

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:01AM (#21804804)
    Even though we all look different (eg: skin colour, height, "width", etc), if you put us in zoos, we will breed freely also
    • by Beached (52204) on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:05AM (#21804826) Homepage
      Yah, it's called College
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:12AM (#21804852)
        Yeah, its also called low income housing...
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by hlt32 (1177391)
      We will breed freely with giraffes?!
    • by Descalzo (898339)

      although the giraffes look different....

      News to me.

  • Breeding? (Score:5, Informative)

    by FroBugg (24957) on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:02AM (#21804808) Homepage

    Although the giraffes look different, if you put them in zoos, they breed freely.

    Assuming they produce viable offspring, isn't that one of the primary definitions for a single species?
    • by Kranfer (620510)
      Well, I am no biologist... But from what I know of most birds, most species can't interbreed... there are sub species... like a scarlet macaw can reproduce with a blue and gold and you get a catalina.... but a Parakeet cannot breed with a macaw... If they ever do... I think I might want one then... but the macaw would eat the poor Parakeet... wouldn't it be better to say 6 subspecies of giraffe?
      • by djupedal (584558) on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:12AM (#21804854)
        "wouldn't it be better to say 6 subspecies of giraffe?"

        You mean, like:
        • giraffa
        • giraffb
        • giraffc
        • giraffd
        • giraffe
        • girafff
        ?
        • by Kranfer (620510)
          Well, no... You would name them... birds for example... Conure is the species and then the sub species are: nanday, sun, jenday, cherry head, patagonian, green cheek, cinamon cheek, peach front, etc... Why not the Kranfer Giraffe, Picard Giraffe, etc etc
          • Re:Breeding? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by ConanG (699649) on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:28AM (#21804934)
            you mean like:

            Reticulated Giraffe
            Masai Giraffe
            Rothschild Giraffe
            South African Giraffe
            Thornicroft Giraffe
            Nigerian Giraffe
          • by djupedal (584558)
            "giraffe - Wiktionary
            giraffe (plural giraffes). A ruminant, of the genus Giraffa [wiktionary.org], of the African Savannah with long legs and highly elongated neck, which make it the tallest ..."


            So, if they haven't gotten the DNA analysis wrong (I think they may have), they would bump the genus up to specie and run the a, b, c, d, e, f routine - works for me :)
        • by Gospodin (547743)

          Yeah, but that's hard to iterate over. Let's go with: giraffe[0], giraffe[1], giraffe[2], giraffe[3], giraffe[4], giraffe[5].

          • You mean you're going to make me do a bounds check whenever I access an element from your giraffe type array?

            At least put any new giraffes you find at the end- don't stick them in the middle or at the beginning.
          • by starX (306011)
            If you do it in perl, you could just use a hash and then loop over everything using a combo of foreach and keys. And then if you decide you want more giraffes, you can stick 'em in wherever you want without having to worry about any bounds checking.
        • Giraffa? Why would you start counting giraffe subspecies at 11? Clearly the more natural progression is:

          Giraffe000
          Giraffe001
          Giraffe010
          Giraffe011
          Giraffe100
          Giraffe101

          This also leaves room for a few additional, as yet undocumented giraffes, namely Giraffe110 and Giraffe111.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ozmanjusri (601766)
        What about the Norwegian Blue?

        Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, idn'it, ay? Beautiful plumage!

      • Re:Breeding? (Score:5, Informative)

        by shellbeach (610559) on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:45AM (#21805020)

        wouldn't it be better to say 6 subspecies of giraffe?
        IAAB, and yes, that's absolutely correct. They're subspecies.

        You get the same thing with the house mouse, mus musculus -- subspecies that are genetically distinct and geographically isolated, but which will interbreed in captivity (and in bordering zones in the wild). It's presumed that a lower fitness in the offspring of cross-subspecies matings in bordering zones keeps the subspecies separate.

        • by stuntpope (19736)
          From the BBC:

          "Currently giraffes are considered to represent a single species classified into multiple subspecies."

          The story contrasts this current view with the new DNA studies that show at least 6 different giraffe species. So the news is that giraffes actually are of different species, not subspecies as previously thought.
          • by plazman30 (531348)
            They are not separate species. They are subspecies on their way to becoming separate species. Evolution is action. The line may be blurred if subspecies a can breed with b and b can breed with c, but a cannot breed with c. They are a number of North America birds in that blurry line. That's the end stages of evolution creating a new species.

            Andy
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by srussia (884021)

      Although the giraffes look different, if you put them in zoos, they breed freely.

      Assuming they produce viable offspring, isn't that one of the primary definitions for a single species?
      There is no rigorous definition of "species". See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species_problem [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dancingmad (128588)
      Someone can correct me if I'm off my nut here but:
      I think that's the major definition, but further categories can be made on things like different physical or (like in this study) genetic characteristics. Also, if the populations are genetically (and possibly morphologically, as the summary suggests) and do not interbreed in the wild that would suggest that giraffes may be well divided into subspecies.
    • by Epistax (544591)
      Assuming they produce viable offspring, isn't that one of the primary definitions for a single species?

      I am no biologist. What about Tiger + Lion = Liger? Tigers and Lions don't breed in the wild (geographic reasons, mostly!). A lion is one species, a tiger is another species, and a liger is a third species, all in the genus Panthera.

      If anyone would like to educate me on this that's fine, I willingly profess my ignorance in this classification system!
      • by mapkinase (958129)
        By "breeding" scientists usually mean producing fertile offspring. "Ligers", alas, are sterile, as well as mules, as far as I know.

        I am tempted, but lazy, to look into an original peer-reviewed article to find out if "zoo offspring" of different kinds of giraffes is fertile or not.
      • by mapkinase (958129)
        oops. I take back my comment about ligers.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species_problem [wikipedia.org]:

        "One fairly extreme example is that lions and tigers will hybridize in captivity, and at least some of the offspring have been reported to be fertile."
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by aussie_a (778472)

        Tigers and Lions don't breed in the wild (geographic reasons, mostly!
        Well that and everyone knows tigers are sluts and so no-one will consider sleeping with one unless they've got a vet nearby to help treat them for the STDs the poor lion invariably caught.
      • by mapkinase (958129)
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liger#Fertility [wikipedia.org]

        Actually, I reverse my view on this again: since only ligresses are fertile, I would not consider this successful fully fertile offspring.
    • >> Although the giraffes look different, if you put them in zoos, they breed freely.
      > Assuming they produce viable offspring, isn't that one of the primary definitions for a single species?


      Not necessarily. Defining a species is a real hassle, and hasn't been solved. In biology this is known as the Species Problem. You see, many populations - like, for example, these giraffes - could interbreed and produce viable offspring, but for many different reasons, like geographical isolation, different matin
    • I think it's actually "they produce fertile offspring" -- horses and donkeys producing viable, non-fertile mules.
      • by plazman30 (531348)
        By "viable", they mean fertile. What's the point to having offspring that can't breed. You'd be an evolutionary dead end. For offspring to biologically viable, it has to be fertile.
  • Contradiction? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shish (588640) on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:17AM (#21804874) Homepage

    reproductively isolated and not interbreeding ... if you put them in zoos, they breed freely.
    Does this not make sense to anyone else?
    • Re:Contradiction? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ferd_farkle (208662) on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:30AM (#21804938)
      Reproductive isolation is a major characteristic of speciation. Lions and tigers, horses and donkeys, etc are different species, but under unnatural conditions may mate and even produce offspring. Depending on how unrelated the species are, the offspring may or may not be viable.

      Speciation is not as cut-and-dried as you might think. Reproductively isolated populations diverge more and more over time, and the speciation becomes more and more pronounced.
      • by aussie_a (778472)
        Does anyone know how long (on average) two groups have to be isolated for before they diverge sufficiently that they'll no longer be able to reproduce fertile offspring with each other? Is it tens of thousands of years? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Baron_Yam (643147)
          I doubt it is a static number - it would depend heavily on the selection pressures on the two separated groups.
      • Depending on how unrelated the species are, the offspring may or may not be viable.

        Maybe you need to find other examples then. In ligers, only the female is viable because the X is comparable enough. We have no idea as to whether this viability extends past a generation yet or causes long term problems. Mules are sterile with rare exceptions.

        Reproductive isolation is simply the first step, otherwise a simple catastrophe which isolates a group creates a new species and this is not the case.
    • by mapkinase (958129)
      Yes. That was the reason I posted this in my journal. Other examples:

      races of humans: diverged thousands and thousands years ago, yet considered one species.

      Domesticated animals: some of the dog breeds are so different in size, that they hardly can copulate... One species.

      Another example: finches, that Darwin classified even into different genera, only later to be found easily interbreeding. (same finches that inspired him to his famous "origin of species" idea).

      This is an example of pseudoscience, when sci
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pigah (695476)
      Most people are familiar with what is called the Biological Species Concept, which defines species as a reproductively isolated group of organisms that can all interbreed among themselves and produce fertile offspring. This works pretty well for most animals, but terribly for plants and many animals. Plants that are quite different can interbreed frequently, but do not because they are isolated by things such as flowering time, pollinator species etc... Then you get into weird intransitivity issues such
    • by Chrisje (471362)
      "Isolated" and "Not interbreeding" sound more like an attitude than an incapability. Much like a (I live in Israel, so bear with me) Palestinian male will be "Isolated" from Tel Aviv and "Not interbreed" with his Jewish female counterpart (which is a shame, because there are a lot of hot chicks in this country).

      Still, once you move 'm to Palo Alto on a tech salary and they become atheists, they might still not interbreed but bang each other to smithereens (and I mean that in the best of ways).

      As another sub
      • Much like a (I live in Israel, so bear with me) Palestinian male will be "Isolated" from Tel Aviv and "Not interbreed" with his Jewish female counterpart

        And if that remained reasonably consistent with two separate stable populations for (say) a hundred thousand years, the populations would diverge enough genetically that they'd lose their ability to interbreed. In reality, the Israelis and Palestinians probably *do* interbreed enough - even in the current political climate - to prevent this, and there's no

        • by sumdumass (711423)
          I doubt that. If the human species could divide then it probably would have long ago. We have had isolated colonies last hundreds of thousands of years without this happening. Island populations like Hawaii were separated from the rest of the world for centuries, same with the Eskimos, the original south American populations and the American Indians.

          You would think that bing isolated for that length of time would be enough if there was enough time. But they haven't isolated into anything other then race.
  • by kaiwai (765866)
    After much debate within the men's community, there has been a decision to classify females as an entirely new species.

    Confirming the almot accepted idea that men are from earth and women are from planet far away and at constant war every 28 days.
  • They call this science? Bah. Everything you need to know about giraffes is contained in this brilliant, revolutionary book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Giraffes-Doris-Haggis-Whey/dp/1932416978

    For example:

    The legs of giraffes are filled with various types of fruit juice. You see, giraffes love drinking fruit juices - pineapple, boysenberry, mango-lemon - but their bodes have no real use for fruit juice, so it all trickes down to their legs where it stays and squishes around. This should have been obvious to yo

  • Racist animals (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CriminalNerd (882826) on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:43AM (#21805010)
    "The female Maasai giraffe may be looking at the male reticulated giraffe and thinking, 'I don't look like you; I don't want to mate with you'," Mr Brown explained.

    So, in short...the giraffes are racists unless they live in a "multicultural" environment (ie: a zoo)?

    Now, where have I heard that before?
    • by mapkinase (958129)
      Tatars never breed with Australian aboriginals. Ergo, different speices? Not.
    • Don't assume this is a racist situation, based on spots arrangement or something so trivial.

      This is obviously a division based on politics. I am sure once the primaries in the US are over, they will be down to two, three at most "subspecies" of giraffe.

      I mean come on, would you want to mate with a Hillary supporter?

  • by ThirdPrize (938147) on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:51AM (#21805048) Homepage
    the people of texas are a completely different species to the ones in New York and California.
  • by mikerubin (449692) on Monday December 24, 2007 @10:04AM (#21805126)
    Good Morning Baby..... ... ...
    Hey wait a minute, you're not the same giraffe from last night !
  • Molecular Techniques? Is that like back in the 50s, when suddenly everything became associated with "the atom"?

    "New, Fallout Man. With Kung Fu grip and the Power Of the Atom! (Note: Contains REAL ATOMS!!!)"
  • although the giraffes look different, if you put them in zoos, they breed freely
    Wouldn't that be considered bestiality?
  • homosexual rather than hetero mounting [wikipedia.org] are the rule this might explain the six subspecies in the wild, no motivation to walk far away in search of new females when all they mostly want is some quick gay ass
  • by PPH (736903) on Monday December 24, 2007 @02:35PM (#21808074)

    ...groups that are reproductively isolated and not interbreeding,...

    By this logic, supermodels and Slashdotters are members of different species.

  • by superwiz (655733)
    If they CAN interbreed, they are not different species. Giraffes are very likely just as picky. If you remove cultural influences, are you sure people would breed as freely as we do? Why do some people like brown eyes and some like blue? If you insist that it's entirely cultural, then you'll have to explain why children under 4 have these preferences, too.
    • If they CAN interbreed, they are not different species.

      That's the popular notion of the definition of a species, but it turns out not to work very well in detail. You have problems like dogs (Canis familiaris), and wolves (Canis lupus) being pretty inter-fertile. Then there is the problem of asexual organisms. Is every asexual individual its own species? In the end it's just a human definition not a natural law.
      • by superwiz (655733)

        You have problems like dogs (Canis familiaris), and wolves (Canis lupus) being pretty inter-fertile

        Isn't that because dogs are wolves artificially selected for domestication?

        In the end it's just a human definition not a natural law.

        What? Specie? Or criterion for belonging to a specie.

        Then there is the problem of asexual organisms. Is every asexual individual its own species?

        Being able to interbreed is a sufficient (rather than necessary) condition for being of the same specie.

        • "Isn't that because dogs are wolves artificially selected for domestication?"

          Does it matter? Given your statement that

          Being able to interbreed is a sufficient (rather than necessary) condition for being of the same specie.

          then wolves and dogs should be classified as being in the same species, but they aren't, and haven't been since Linnaeus set up our modern classification system. The problem is that the folks had all sorts of implicit Aristotelean assumptions that inter-fertility went hand in hand with

      • by sumdumass (711423)
        Wouldn't the differenced in dogs and wolves be more of a name classification error then a problem with the definition of species?

        And with Asexual organisms, you have to look at the purpose of breeding as used in the term species which is to exchange genetic information. Asexual organisms transfer genetic mutations and stuff through chemicals and proteins. It really isn't a problem as much as it is made out to be. Althought it isn't exactly as simple as I just made it seem.
        • Wouldn't the differenced in dogs and wolves be more of a name classification error then a problem with the definition of species?

          Yeah, but that's sort of my point. The classification is mistaken in terms of the original, theoretical, basis for distinguishing species, but the assignment is kept because it is kept, presumably because classifying dogs separately from wolves is useful for other reasons.

          Asexual organisms transfer genetic mutations and stuff through chemicals and proteins.

          I'm not sure what yo

          • by sumdumass (711423)
            I'm referring to the conjugation process. I was sure that the rotifers were actually both asexual and sexual but it appears that some are and some aren't and some are both.
  • "if you put them in zoos, they breed freely."

    If the offspring are viable, then they're the same species. That is the definition of a species. Doesn't matter if they geographically isolated, or not.
  • If they can interbreed and produce viable offspring, then they are not separate species. Just different breeds. In humans, some would call them races. In dogs it's breeds. Isolate any population long enough and genetic drift will produce differences. It takes a very long isolation to prevent interbreeding.

    For that matter, dogs and wolves are still the same species. Lots of variation, but they can still interbreed.

    Horses an Asses are different species. They can interbreed, but the cross is almost always ste

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