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Biodiversity of East-European and Siberian large mammals on the level of genetic variation of populations

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Biogeography and genetic variation in large mammals

Researchers from central and eastern Europe and from Siberia have investigated how global processes have affected the genetic diversity of large Eurasian mammals.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment

The EU-funded project BIOGEAST (Biodiversity of east-European and Siberian large mammals on the level of genetic variation of populations) focused on the biogeography of the following large mammals: European wolf, Eurasian lynx, brown bear, moose, red deer, roe deer and wild boar. The aim was to develop a research network to investigate the present phylogeographic pattern and genetic variability of large mammals at the Eurasian scale and to determine how they are influenced by climatic and anthropogenic processes. The study helped to identify the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) refugia, where these animals survived during the last glacial period in the northern hemisphere around 20 000-25 000 years ago. It also enabled researchers to identify their postglacial dispersal routes. Investigations were based on research material collected from both contemporary populations and museum collections. Comparison of contemporary and fossil remains helped to distinguish the impact of natural processes from changes in genetic variability caused by humans. The results of molecular analyses were compared with environmental data, such as climate, habitat and landscape structure and their changes over time using a geographic information system. Researchers found that moose appeared to have three distinct genetic lineages (western, central and eastern), reflecting their survival in LGM refugia, postglacial recolonisation and historical decline in the south-western part of their range. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis revealed hybridisation of European roe deer with Siberian roe deer (Capreolus pygargus). Genetic variation in wild boar mtDNA appeared surprisingly small over the large biogeographic area. This suggested a lack of significant topographic barriers to wild boar migrations and gene flow in the lowlands of central and eastern Europe. Scientists also found that European bison (Bison bonasus) were descended from an ancient hybridisation between the extinct steppe bison (Bison priscus) and ancestors of modern cattle, the aurochs (Bos primigenius), before 120 000 years ago. BIOGEAST work will result in a greater understanding of the global processes that have had an impact on the contemporary pattern of genetic diversity and phylogeography of large mammals of Europe. It also has the potential to expand our knowledge of the impact of climate changes on the distribution and genetic variability of large mammals on the continental scale. This information will help in the conservation and management of species such as European wolves and the Eurasian Lynx.


Biogeography, genetic variation, large mammals, BIOGEAST, Last Glacial Maximum

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