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The vertebrate extinction rate over the past century is approximately 22 – 100 times greater than background extinction rates [1] and large mammals are particularly at risk [2, 3]. Quaternary megafaunal extinctions have been attributed to climate change [4], overexploitation [5] or a combination of the two [6]. Rhinoceroses (Family: Rhinocerotidae) have a rich fossil history replete with iconic examples of climate-induced extinctions [7], but current pressures threaten to eliminate this group entirely. The Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is among the most imperiled mammals on earth. The 2011 population was estimated at ≤ 216 wild individuals [8] and currently the species is extirpated, or nearly so, throughout the majority of its former range [8–12]. Understanding demographic history is important in placing current population status into a broader ecological and evolutionary context. Analysis of the Sumatran Rhinoceros genome reveals extreme changes in effective population size throughout the Pleistocene. Population expansion during the early to middle Pleistocene was followed by decline. Ecological niche modeling indicated that changing climate likely played a role in the decline of Sumatran Rhinoceros as less suitable habitat on an emergent Sundaland corridor isolated Sumatran Rhinoceros populations. By the end of the Pleistocene the Sundaland corridor was submerged, populations were fragmented and consequently reduced to low Holocene levels from which they would never recover. Past events denuded the Sumatran Rhinoceros of genetic diversity either through population decline or fragmentation or some combination of the two and likely made the species even more susceptible to later exploitation and habitat loss.

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Mays HL Jr, Hung C-M, Shaner P-J, et al. Genomic Analysis of Demographic History and Ecological Niche Modeling in the Endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis. Current Biology. 2018;28(1):70-76.e4. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2017.11.021