An ancient tortoise from Madagascar was described thanks to DNA analysis

(ORDO NEWS) — Paleontologists have described a giant tortoise that lived in Madagascar about a thousand years ago.

It occupied the same place in the ecosystem of the island as mammoths and other large herbivores on the mainland.

To date, the reptile has died out. The scientists’ study was based on a single tibia found during the excavation. They were able to isolate and analyze nuclear and mitochondrial DNA.

The results of the analysis showed that the turtle belongs to a previously unknown species. She was given the scientific name Astrochelys rogerbouri in honor of the French herpetologist and giant tortoise expert Roger Bour (1947-2020).

The exact time of extinction of turtles is unknown. The individual whose bone scientists found lived about a thousand years ago.

Researchers first began collecting fossils of giant tortoises in the 17th century. By that time, the local population of reptiles had already disappeared, probably due to the colonization of the island by the Indo-Malay people.

“If we want to know what island ecosystems were originally like before human arrival, we need to include giant tortoises.

These creatures could take on the role that large grazing mammals have occupied elsewhere,” said study co-author Karen Saemonds, assistant professor of biological sciences at Northern Illinois University.

The fossilized remains found by scientists on the island turned out to be few and very fragmented.

They did not allow to recreate the appearance of the animal and draw conclusions about its lifestyle. Experts were able to obtain important data only thanks to DNA analysis.

Genetic studies have made it possible not only to identify a new species of turtles, but also to recreate its evolutionary history.

Thus, the extinct line Mascarene Cylindraspis left Africa in the late Eocene, more than 33 million years ago, and settled in the now sunken volcanic zone of Réunion.

From there, the species spread to the local islands. Settlement led to the division of turtles into several separate branches. In the period from 4 to 27 million years ago, five new species of reptiles arose.

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