Hippos more closely related to whales, not pigs, say researchers

March 19th, 2009 - 7:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, March 19 (IANS) Hippos spend lots of time in the water and now, if researchers are to be believed, it turns out that they are the closest living relative to the whales.
Jessica Theodor, associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Calgary (Canada) and her colleague Jonathan Geisler of Georgia Southern University are disputing a recent study that creates a different family tree for the hippo.

That research was published in Nature in December 2007 by J.G.M. Thewissen, professor at Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine, and his colleagues.

Thewissen said that whales are more closely linked to an extinct pig like animal, often known as India’s pig or Indohyus, while hippos are closely related to living pigs.

But this isn’t accurate according to Theodor.

“What Thewissen is saying is that Indohyus is the closest relative of whales - and we agree. Where we think he is wrong, is that he is saying that hippos are more closely related to true pigs than they are to whales,” said Theodor.

“This contradicts most of the data from DNA from the last 12 or 13 years. Those data place hippos as the closest living relative to whales.”

She said Thewissen did not use DNA evidence, instead used fossil evidence alone to create a family tree and reach the conclusion that hippos have more in common with pigs than whales.

“And the reason their tree is so different is simple: by excluding all the DNA information they left out all the data that shows a strong relationship between whales and hippos,” she said, according to a Calgary release.

Theodor’s rebuttal of Thewissen’s work appeared in Nature Thursday.

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