PHYLOGENY OF ELVES FINDS THAT SANTA’S WORKERS ARE ACTUALLY DWARVES
Note: I originally wrote this post for #SciFundChallenge and you can find that version of the article here.
This study reconstructs the evolutionary tree of elves using 26 life history, morphological, behavioral, and magical characters. Notably, we include Christmas elves, J.K. Rowling’s elves, and the elves of The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit. Our findings suggest that Christmas elves should not be classified as elves but are actually more closely related to dwarves.
Elves were among the first beings to inhabit terrestrial ecosystems. Living species are present in a variety of habitats (Figure 1), including: toy work-shops, the forests of middle earth, tree bakeries, and domestic dwellings.
FIGURE 1: ELVES THRIVE IN A VARIETY OF HABITATS. WE WONDER HOW THEY ADAPTED TO SUCH DISPARATE ECOSYSTEMS.
Being a highly charismatic group, scientists have shown great interest in reconstructing their evolutionary history. However, abundant hybridization, very very very long generation times, mutations due to magic, and corruption by dark forces are all factors that have confounded previous attempts to reconstruct their phylogeny.
This study provides the first phylogeny of elves using characters of life-history, morphology, behavior, and magical ability.
We chose 15 mythical creatures for our study. This included 9 elves and 6 outgroup species. Due to patent restrictions, no tree-dwelling cookie producing elves were included in our sample.
Initial attempts to obtain genomic data from elven tissue was unsuccessful. Due to funding restrictions we could not obtain a lysis buffer that would digest an energy field of pure starlight. This was greatly disheartening considering how difficult it was for us to get permits to destructively sample living elf populations.
In the software Mesquite, we assembled a matrix of 26 categorical characters (Table 1 – see the bottom of the page) from various literature sources. This character matrix was used to construct a strict consensus of the 100 most parsimonious trees (SPR rearrangement algorithm). The tree was rooted such that gnomes, fairies, dwarves, trolls, and orcs were all contained in the outgroup.
Our resulting tree (Figure 2) has excellent resolution, despite having a large amount of incomplete data for the Ljosalfar elves and Dokkalfar elves of Nordic lore. Large amounts of incomplete data are expected for extinct species, such as these.
FIGURE 2: STRICT CONSENSUS MOST PARSIMONIOUS TREE OF ELVES
The three Tolkien elf species are most closely related to the Ljosalfar (light elves) of Nordic mythology, from which Tolkien conceived his elves. The Drow elves of the Dungeons and Dragons universe were found more closely related to the Nordic Dokkalfar (dark elves) despite their purported derivation from the Tolkien elves. However, we believe this could be error due to convergent evolution of the arcane arts. The blood elves of the World of Warcraft were the sister group to all other “true” elves.
Two surprising results were (1) we obtained the Christmas Elves (American mythology) and (2) the House Elves (Rowling mythology) with the outgroup. House elves are indeed more closely related to the common ancestor of true-gnomes and fairies and not any of the “true” elves.
Previous studies have theorized that selective breeding and “perversion” of elves by the dark lord Monsanto Morgoth was the origin of orcs. Our phylogeny clearly shows that orcs are more closely related to trolls and not elves.
Although more extensive taxonomic revisions are necessary we propose a number of new classifications.
House elves (Rowling) should be considered house gnomes, and fairies are a highly evolved form of gnome that have achieved flight. We use new gnomeclature to refer to the Gnome+Fairy clade as Pixies.
Christmas elves are in fact a type of dwarf, whose skills in stone craft have been adopted for toy making. Ancient Christmas elves probably made primitive stone toys.
J.K. Rowlings gnomes, although having affinities for gardens, may in fact be distant relatives of orcs and trolls. We hesitantly suggest this, however, since this species has a large number of highly derived traits and secondary losses, which could potentially confound the analysis.
Conflict of interest statement
The authors of this work report no affiliation with: the Lich King, Sauron the terrible, Freya, or Led Zeppelin. The authors do not have any rings of power.
This study was funded by the NISP (National Institute of Sprites and Pixies).
About the author
Dominic Evangelista is an assistant professor at Adelphi University studying the phylogeny of cockroaches (not elves). Follow him on twitter @Roach_Brain or ask him a question about cockroaches!
Table 1: Character matrix used in the phylogenetic reconstruction