Missing saiga on the taiga


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Conservation biologists understand that linking demographic histories of species at risk with causal biotic and abiotic events should help us predict the effects of ongoing biotic and abiotic change. In parallel, researchers have started to use ancient genetic information (aDNA) to explore the demographic histories of a number of species present in the Pleistocene fossil record (see, e.g. Shapiro et al. 2004). However, aDNA studies have primarily focused on identifying long-term population trends, linked to climate variability and the role of early human activity. Population trends over more recent time, e.g. during the Holocene, have been poorly explored, partly owing to analytical limitations. In this issue, Campos et al. (2010a) highlight the potential of aDNA to investigate demographic patterns over such recent time periods for the compelling and endangered saiga antelope Saiga tatarica (Fig. 1). The time may come when past and current demography can be combined to produce a seamless record.

Figure 1.

Figure 1.

 The critically endangered saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). (a) Photo courtesy of B. Buuveibaatar and the Wildlife Conservation Society. (b) Photo courtesy of Pavel Sorokin.