Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New light shed on the genetic history of the European beaver

Date:
February 18, 2014
Source:
University of York
Summary:
An international team of scientists has used detailed analysis of ancient and modern DNA to show that the distribution and lack of genetic diversity among modern European beavers is due largely to human hunting.

An international team of scientists has used detailed analysis of ancient and modern DNA to show that the distribution and lack of genetic diversity among modern European beavers is due largely to human hunting.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of York

An international team of scientists has used detailed analysis of ancient and modern DNA to show that the distribution and lack of genetic diversity among modern European beavers is due largely to human hunting.

The research, which was led by University of York researcher Professor Michi Hofreiter, provides important new insights into the genetic history of the Eurasian beaver Castor fiber. Crucially, it shows the European beaver has been strongly affected by expanding human populations for many thousands of years.

The researchers say that centuries of hunting, rather than changing climate conditions since the beginning of the Holocene (or recent) period, accounts for the lack of genetic diversity, as well as the geographic distribution of genetic diversity, seen in modern European beavers.

The research, which also involved researchers from Germany, USA, Norway, New Zealand, Russia, Poland, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands, is reported in the journal Molecular Ecology.

Through DNA sequencing, the research team discovered that the Eurasian beaver can be divided into three distinct groups. The two main ones are in western and eastern Europe, with a now extinct, and previously unknown, third group in the Danube basin. This population existed at least 6,000 years ago but went extinct during the transition to modern times.

Professor Hofreiter, from York's Department of Biology and the University of Potsdam's Faculty of Mathematics and Life Sciences, said: "While beaver populations have been growing rapidly since the late 19th century when conservation efforts began, genetic diversity within modern beaver populations remains considerably reduced to what was present prior to the period of human hunting and habitat reduction.

"In addition, the rapid loss of diversity prior to conservation efforts appears to have established a very strong pattern for the geographic distribution of genetic diversity among present-day beaver populations." Beavers have long been an important resource for human populations across the northern continents. Their fur is of exceptional quality, and has been a highly traded commodity. Beavers have also been hunted for meat and for castoreum -- an anal gland secretion often used in traditional medicine. Stone engravings at Lake Onega in northern Europe indicate that beavers played a role in ancient human societies from around 3,000-4,000 years ago.

After centuries of human hunting, the Eurasian beaver had disappeared from most of its original range by the end of the 19th century, with only an estimated 1,200 beavers remaining.

The research team set out to discover whether the lack of genetic diversity and strong phylogeography (geographic distribution of genetic diversity) seen today are the result of its near extinction, or already existed prior to the reduction in its range. To do this, they examined DNA from 48 ancient beaver samples, ranging in age from several hundred to around 11,000 years old, and 152 modern DNA sequences.

The experimental work was carried out in Leipzig, Germany. Corresponding author Dr Susanne Horn, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, said: "We found that overall there was more genetic diversity in the past. Apparently, already in ancient times an ancient contact zone existed between the eastern and western populations of beavers in the Oder River area. This is close to a present-day contact zone in Germany and Poland."

Professor Hofreiter added: "The present-day contact zone was assisted by conservation management and members of the eastern and western population groups meet there today as they did in the past. This suggests that conservation management may, in the long run, help to restore the pre-human impact population structure of threatened species."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of York. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Susanne Horn, Stefan Prost, Mathias Stiller, Daniel Makowiecki, Tatiana Kuznetsova, Norbert Benecke, Erich Pucher, Anne Karin Hufthammer, Charles Schouwenburg, Beth Shapiro, Michael Hofreiter. Ancient mitochondrial DNA and the genetic history of Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) in Europe. Molecular Ecology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/mec.12691

Cite This Page:

University of York. "New light shed on the genetic history of the European beaver." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140218110932.htm>.
University of York. (2014, February 18). New light shed on the genetic history of the European beaver. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140218110932.htm
University of York. "New light shed on the genetic history of the European beaver." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140218110932.htm (accessed September 20, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) — Considered a "national heritage" in Belgium, chocolate now has a new museum in Brussels. In a former chocolate factory, visitors to the permanent exhibition spaces, workshops and tastings can discover derivatives of the cocoa bean. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) — The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

AP (Sep. 19, 2014) — A federal jury has convicted three people in connection with an outbreak of salmonella poisoning five years ago that sickened hundreds of people and was linked to a number of deaths. (Sept. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) — Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins