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Ancient DNA sequences point to a large loss of mitochondrial genetic diversity in the saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) since the Pleistocene

Authors

  • PAULA F. CAMPOS,

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, 1350 Copenhagen, Denmark
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  • TOMMY KRISTENSEN,

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, 1350 Copenhagen, Denmark
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  • LUDOVIC ORLANDO,

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, 1350 Copenhagen, Denmark
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  • ANDREI SHER,

    1. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciences, 33 Leninsky Prospect, 119071 Moscow, Russia
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    • Deceased.

  • MARINA V. KHOLODOVA,

    1. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciences, 33 Leninsky Prospect, 119071 Moscow, Russia
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  • ANDERS GÖTHERSTRÖM,

    1. Department of Evolutionary Biology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Norbyv. 18D, S-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden
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  • MICHAEL HOFREITER,

    1. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany
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    • Present address: Department of Biology, University of York, PO Box 373, York, YO10 5YW, UK.

  • DOROTHÉE G. DRUCKER,

    1. Institut für Ur-und Frühgeschichte und Archäologie des Mittelalters, Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie Universität Tübingen Rümelinstr. 23, D-72070 Tübingen, Germany
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  • PAVEL KOSINTSEV,

    1. Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology, Urals Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 202 8th of March Street, Ekaterinburg 620144, Russia
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  • ALEXEI TIKHONOV,

    1. Zoological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Universitetskaya nab. 1, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia
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  • GENNADY. F. BARYSHNIKOV,

    1. Zoological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Universitetskaya nab. 1, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia
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  • ESKE WILLERSLEV,

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, 1350 Copenhagen, Denmark
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  • M. THOMAS P. GILBERT

    1. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, 1350 Copenhagen, Denmark
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Errata

This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Corrigendum Volume 23, Issue 22, 5646–5648, Article first published online: 25 November 2014

M Thomas P Gilbert, Fax: +45 35 32 13 00; E-mail: mtpgilbert@gmail.com

Abstract

Prior to the Holocene, the range of the saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) spanned from France to the Northwest Territories of Canada. Although its distribution subsequently contracted to the steppes of Central Asia, historical records indicate that it remained extremely abundant until the end of the Soviet Union, after which its populations were reduced by over 95%. We have analysed the mitochondrial control region sequence variation of 27 ancient and 38 modern specimens, to assay how the species’ genetic diversity has changed since the Pleistocene. Phylogenetic analyses reveal the existence of two well-supported, and clearly distinct, clades of saiga. The first, spanning a time range from >49 500 14C ybp to the present, comprises all the modern specimens and ancient samples from the Northern Urals, Middle Urals and Northeast Yakutia. The second clade is exclusive to the Northern Urals and includes samples dating from between 40 400 to 10 250 14C ybp. Current genetic diversity is much lower than that present during the Pleistocene, an observation that data modelling using serial coalescent indicates cannot be explained by genetic drift in a population of constant size. Approximate Bayesian Computation analyses show the observed data is more compatible with a drastic population size reduction (c. 66–77%) following either a demographic bottleneck in the course of the Holocene or late Pleistocene, or a geographic fragmentation (followed by local extinction of one subpopulation) at the Holocene/Pleistocene transition.

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