The origin of the elephant on the island of Borneo remains elusive. Research has suggested two alternative hypotheses: the Bornean elephant stems either from a recent introduction in the 17th century or from an ancient colonization several hundreds of thousands years ago. Lack of elephant fossils has been interpreted as evidence for a very recent introduction, whereas mtDNA divergence from other Asian elephants has been argued to favor an ancient colonization. We investigated the demographic history of Bornean elephants using full-likelihood and approximate Bayesian computation analyses. Our results are at odds with both the recent and ancient colonization hypotheses, and favour a third intermediate scenario. We find that genetic data favour a scenario in which Bornean elephants experienced a bottleneck during the last glacial period, possibly as a consequence of the colonization of Borneo, and from which it has slowly recovered since. Altogether the data support a natural colonization of Bornean elephants at a time when large terrestrial mammals could colonise from the Sunda shelf when sea levels were much lower. Our results are important not only in understanding the unique history of the colonization of Borneo by elephants, but also for their long-term conservation.
- Population genetics