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Evolution of the Dawson caribou (Rangifer tarandus dawsoni)

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The Dawson caribou (Rangifer tarandus dawsoni) was a rare subspecies of caribou that inhabited Haida Gwaii, an archipelago located 80 km off the west coast of Canada. It became extinct during the early part of the 20th century and to this day all that remains of Dawson caribou are several pelts, skulls, and antlers. With the exception of a physical description based on these remains, not much is known about the taxonomy of this subspecies of caribou. Using molecular and ancient-DNA techniques, we sequenced 215 base pairs of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome b and compared these sequences with those from conspecifics Rangifer tarandus caribou (woodland caribou) and Rangifer tarandus granti (barren-ground caribou). These analyses suggest that the Dawson caribou was not genetically distinct. The unique morphology characterizing this extinct form of caribou may have been of recent origin, either from local selection pressures or from environmentally induced phenotypic plasticity.

Le caribou de Dawson (Rangifer tarandus dawsoni) est une sous-espèce rare du caribou qui vivait dans l'archipel de Haida Gwayii, situé à 80 km au large de la côte ouest du Canada, et qui est disparu au début du 20e siècle et, à ce jour, tout ce qui reste du caribou de Dawson se résume à plusieurs peaux, crânes et merrains. À l'exception d'une description physique basée sur ces restes, la taxonomie de la sous-espèce est mal connue. Au moyen de techniques moléculaires et de méthodes d'analyse de l'ADN ancien, nous avons procédé au séquençage de 215 paires de bases du gène du cytochorome b et comparé les séquences obtenues à celles des autres sous-espèces, Rangifer tarandus caribou (le caribou de bois) et Rangifer tarandus granti (le caribou de Grant). Les analyses indiquent que le caribou de Dawson n'était pas génétiquement distinct. La morphologie particulière qui caractérise cette forme disparue du caribou peut être d'origine récente, à la suite de pressions de sélection locales ou à cause de la plasticité phéno typique suscitée par l'environnement.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2002

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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