Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Reindeer


Evenks and Evens, Tungusic-speaking reindeer herders and hunter-gatherers, are spread over a wide area of northern Asia, whereas their linguistic relatives the Udegey, sedentary fishermen and hunter-gatherers, are settled to the south of the lower Amur River. The prehistory and relationships of these Tungusic peoples are as yet poorly investigated, especially with respect to their interactions with neighbouring populations. In this study, we analyse over 500 complete mtDNA genome sequences from nine different Evenk and even subgroups as well as their geographic neighbours from Siberia and their linguistic relatives the Udegey from the Amur-Ussuri region in order to investigate the prehistory of the Tungusic populations. These data are supplemented with analyses of Y-chromosomal haplogroups and STR haplotypes in the Evenks, Evens, and neighbouring Siberian populations. We demonstrate that whereas the North Tungusic Evenks and Evens show evidence of shared ancestry both in the maternal and in the paternal line, this signal has been attenuated by genetic drift and differential gene flow with neighbouring populations, with isolation by distance further shaping the maternal genepool of the Evens. The Udegey, in contrast, appear quite divergent from their linguistic relatives in the maternal line, with a mtDNA haplogroup composition characteristic of populations of the Amur-Ussuri region. Nevertheless, they show affinities with the Evenks, indicating that they might be the result of admixture between local Amur-Ussuri populations and Tungusic populations from the north.

Concepts: DNA, Population genetics, Asia, Russia, Reindeer, Siberia, Evenks, Ethnic groups in Russia


Although Siberia was inhabited by modern humans at an early stage, there is still debate over whether it remained habitable during the extreme cold of the Last Glacial Maximum or whether it was subsequently repopulated by peoples with recent shared ancestry. Previous studies of the genetic history of Siberian populations were hampered by the extensive admixture that appears to have taken place among these populations, since commonly used methods assume a tree-like population history and at most single admixture events. Here we analyze geogenetic maps and use other approaches to distinguish the effects of shared ancestry from prehistoric migrations and contact, and develop a new method based on the covariance of ancestry components, to investigate the potentially complex admixture history. We furthermore adapt a previously devised method of admixture dating for use with multiple events of gene flow, and apply these methods to whole-genome genotype data from over 500 individuals belonging to 20 different Siberian ethnolinguistic groups. The results of these analyses indicate that there have been multiple layers of admixture detectable in most of the Siberian populations, with considerable differences in the admixture histories of individual populations. Furthermore, most of the populations of Siberia included here, even those settled far to the north, appear to have a southern origin, with the northward expansions of different populations possibly being driven partly by the advent of pastoralism, especially reindeer domestication. These newly developed methods to analyse multiple admixture events should aid in the investigation of similarly complex population histories elsewhere.

Concepts: Human, Human migration, Pleistocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Last glacial period, Glacial period, Reindeer, Siberia



Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are known brominated flame retardants that have now been banned or phased out in many parts of the world. As a consequence, interest in the environmental occurrence of non-PBDE flame retardants has increased. In the present study several potential PBDE replacement products together with short chained chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs) were assessed in Greenland sharks accidentally caught in waters around Iceland between 2001 and 2003. Non-PBDE flame retardants detected were pentabromoethylbenzene (PBEB), 1,2-bis(2,4,6-tribromophenoxy)ethane (BTBPE) and 2,3,5,6-tetrabromo-p-xylene (TBX). The concentrations were lower than levels of BDE-47 but similar to other PBDE congeners previously reported in Greenland shark. The median concentrations of SCCPs was 430ngg(-1) fat, similar to individual PCB congeners previously reported. This is the first report of SCCPs, BTBPE, PBEB and TBX in any shark species globally and confirms the usefulness of the Greenland shark as a screening species for environmental contamination in the Arctic and sub-Arctic environment.

Concepts: Polychlorinated biphenyl, Brominated flame retardant, Flame retardants, Shark, Greenland shark, Somniosus, Pacific sleeper shark, Reindeer


Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a prion disease found in deer, elk and moose in North America and since recently, wild reindeer in Norway. Caribou are at-risk to encounter CWD in areas such as Alberta, Canada, where the disease spreads towards caribou habitats. CWD susceptibility is modulated by species-specific polymorphisms in the prion protein gene (Prnp). We sequenced Prnp of woodland caribou from nine Albertan populations. In one population (Chinchaga) a significantly higher frequency of the 138N allele linked to reduced CWD susceptibility was observed. These data are relevant for developing CWD management strategies including conservation of threatened caribou populations.

Concepts: Deer, Prion, Elk, Chronic wasting disease, Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, British Columbia, Antler, Reindeer


Deer antler velvet is widely used as a vitalizing, tonifying, haemopoietic and strengthening agent for debilitated persons in East Asia. To develop a rapid and sensitive method for the identification of the biological source or origin in antler velvet products, a molecular approach was applied using PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis. The cytochrome b gene sequences of nine cervidae species were analyzed, and a Dde I restriction endonuclease recognition site was found only in sika deer and red deer, the official origin of deer velvet in Chinese pharmacopoeia. A specific primer was designed, and rapid PCR amplified products were subjected to restriction digestion using a fast RFLP procedure. Sika deer and red deer showed two bands of 161 and 102 bp, in contrast to the undigested state of 263 from other antlers. The established PCR-RFLP method was applied in commercial velvet products, and a high frequency of substitution (50%) was revealed in collected commercial samples. The method was successful in detecting contaminated and adulterated antler products in Chinese patent drugs, and the whole detection process was accomplished within 1-1.5 h.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Deer, Elk, Moose, Antler, Red Deer, Reindeer, Sika Deer


Temperature is increasing in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world. The frequency and nature of precipitation events are also predicted to change in the future. These changes in climate are expected, together with increasing human pressures, to have significant impacts on Arctic and sub-Arctic species and ecosystems. Due to the key role that reindeer play in those ecosystems, it is essential to understand how climate will affect the region’s most important species. Our study assesses the role of climate on the dynamics of fourteen Eurasian reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) populations, using for the first time data on reindeer abundance collected over a 70-year period, including both wild and semi-domesticated reindeer, and covering more than half of the species' total range. We analyzed trends in population dynamics, investigated synchrony among population growth rates, and assessed the effects of climate on population growth rates. Trends in the population dynamics were remarkably heterogeneous. Synchrony was apparent only among some populations and was not correlated with distance among population ranges. Proxies of climate variability mostly failed to explain population growth rates and synchrony. For both wild and semi-domesticated populations, local weather, biotic pressures, loss of habitat and human disturbances appear to have been more important drivers of reindeer population dynamics than climate. In semi-domesticated populations, management strategies may have masked the effects of climate. Conservation efforts should aim to mitigate human disturbances, which could exacerbate the potentially negative effects of climate change on reindeer populations in the future. Special protection and support should be granted to those semi-domesticated populations that suffered the most because of the collapse of the Soviet Union, in order to protect the livelihood of indigenous peoples that depend on the species, and the multi-faceted role that reindeer exert in Arctic ecosystems.

Concepts: Demography, Population, Population ecology, Climate, Weather, Subarctic, Population growth, Reindeer


Across the boreal forest of Canada, habitat disturbance is the ultimate cause of caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) declines. Habitat restoration is a focus of caribou recovery efforts, with a goal to finding ways to reduce predator use of disturbances, and caribou-predator encounters. One of the most pervasive disturbances within caribou ranges in Alberta, Canada are seismic lines cleared for energy exploration. Seismic lines facilitate predator movement, and although vegetation on some seismic lines is regenerating, it remains unknown whether vegetation regrowth is sufficient to alter predator response. We used Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data, and GPS locations, to understand how vegetation and other attributes of seismic lines influence movements of two predators, wolves (Canis lupus) and grizzly bears (Ursus arctos). During winter, wolves moved towards seismic lines regardless of vegetation height, while during spring wolves moved towards seismic lines with higher vegetation. During summer, wolves moved towards seismic lines with lower vegetation and also moved faster near seismic lines with vegetation <0.7 m. Seismic lines with lower vegetation height were preferred by grizzly bears during spring and summer, but there was no relationship between vegetation height and grizzly bear movement rates. These results suggest that wolves use seismic lines for travel during summer, but during winter wolf movements relative to seismic lines could be influenced by factors additional to movement efficiency; potentially enhanced access to areas frequented by ungulate prey. Grizzly bears may be using seismic lines for movement, but could also be using seismic lines as a source of vegetative food or ungulate prey. To reduce wolf movement rate, restoration could focus on seismic lines with vegetation <1 m in height. However our results revealed that seismic lines continue to influence wolf movement behaviour decades after they were built, and even at later stages of regeneration. Therefore it remains unknown at what stage of natural regeneration, if any, wolves cease to respond to seismic lines. To reduce wolf response to seismic lines, active restoration tactics like blocking seismic lines and tree planting, along with management of alternate prey, could be evaluated.

Concepts: Deer, Dog, British Columbia, Bear, Bears, Reindeer, Grizzly Bear


Deer are an iconic group of large mammals that originated in the Early Miocene of Eurasia (ca. 19 Ma). While there is some consensus on key relationships among their members, on the basis of molecular- or morphology-based analyses, or combined approaches, many questions remain, and the bony labyrinth has shown considerable potential for the phylogenetics of this and other groups. Here we examine its shape in 29 species of living and fossil deer using 3D geometric morphometrics and cladistics. We clarify several issues of the origin and evolution of cervids. Our results give new age estimates at different nodes of the tree and provide for the first time a clear distinction of stem and crown Cervidae. We unambiguously attribute the fossil Euprox furcatus (13.8 Ma) to crown Cervidae, pushing back the origin of crown deer to (at least) 4 Ma. Furthermore, we show that Capreolinae are more variable in bony labyrinth shape than Cervinae and confirm for the first time the monophyly of the Old World Capreolinae (including the Chinese water deer Hydropotes) based on morphological characters only. Finally, we provide evidence to support the sister group relationship of Megaloceros giganteus with the fallow deer Dama.

Concepts: Deer, Phylogenetics, Elk, Moose, Reindeer, Fallow Deer


Sustaining arctic/subarctic ecosystems and the livelihoods of northern Indigenous peoples is an immense challenge amid increasing resource development. The paper describes a “tragedy of open access” occurring in Canada’s north as governments open up new areas of sensitive barren-ground caribou habitat to mineral resource development. Once numbering in the millions, barren-ground caribou populations (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus/Rangifer tarandus granti) have declined over 70% in northern Canada over the last two decades in a cycle well understood by northern Indigenous peoples and scientists. However, as some herds reach critically low population levels, the impacts of human disturbance have become a major focus of debate in the north and elsewhere. A growing body of science and traditional knowledge research points to the adverse impacts of resource development; however, management efforts have been almost exclusively focused on controlling the subsistence harvest of northern Indigenous peoples. These efforts to control Indigenous harvesting parallel management practices during previous periods of caribou population decline (for example, 1950s) during which time governments also lacked evidence and appeared motivated by other values and interests in northern lands and resources. As mineral resource development advances in northern Canada and elsewhere, addressing this “science-policy gap” problem is critical to the sustainability of both caribou and people.

Concepts: Agriculture, Deer, North America, Inuit, Indigenous peoples, First Nations, Reindeer, Barren-ground Caribou