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New Genetic Study Shows More Tiger Types Than Expected

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A new study identified six subspecies of tigers currently living across Asia. The researchers used whole genomes from 32 tigers to study their evolutionary history as well as their distinct differences.   ( Andreas Breitling | Pixabay )

Apparently, there are more types of tigers than scientists initially thought. A new study revealed six unique subspecies of tigers currently in existence. 

The new study analyzed whole genomes from 32 tiger specimens from across habitats and locations around the world. They found that the 4,000 living tigers can be split up into six subspecies spread throughout Asia: Bengal tiger, the Sumatran tiger, the Siberian tiger, the South China tiger, the Indochinese tiger, and the Malayan tiger. Three other subspecies are now extinct. 

Their findings were published in the journal Current Biology

Finding New Information About Tigers

The team behind the new study involved researchers from China, Russia, and the United States. The same people that led the new study also previously published a paper calling for the Malayan tiger to be recognized as a distinct subspecies. 

From studying a whole tiger genome, the researchers also found a load of new information about each subspecies. The study showed researchers' evidence of natural selection. 

This comes as a surprise because while tiger fossil record stretches back to a couple million years ago, tigers that are still living today can trace their ancestry back to only about 100,000 years ago. This is most obvious from Sumatran tigers that might have been naturally selected to be smaller in size as to not require as much energy to survive. 

Unfortunately, the study was not able to answer the origins of South China tigers, the only subspecies found in captivity. The researchers, however, assured that they will continue to study South China tigers. 

Importance Of The 6 Subspecies In Conservation

The researchers reiterate that it is important for the world to recognize six subspecies of tigers for conservation purposes, especially now that their numbers are dwindling. Although the number of tigers continues to rise after years of decline, there are only about 4,000 tigers in existence. All subspecies of tigers are endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund.  

"The lack of consensus over the number of tiger subspecies has partially hindered the global effort to recover the species from the brink of extinction, as both captive breeding and landscape intervention of wild populations increasingly requires an explicit delineation of the conservation management units," stated author Shu-Jin Luo of Peking University, Beijing. 

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