Larsson P, von Seth J, Hagen IJ, Götherström A, Androsov S, Germonpré M, Bergfeldt N, Fedorov S, Eide NE, Sokolova N, Berteaux D, Angerbjörn A, Flagstad Ø, Plotnikov V, Norén K, Díez-Del-Molino D, Dussex N, Stanton DWG, Dalén L
Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., B, Biol. Sci. 374 (1788) 20190212 [2019-12-23; online 2019-11-04]
Ancient DNA provides a powerful means to investigate the timing, rate and extent of population declines caused by extrinsic factors, such as past climate change and human activities. One species probably affected by both these factors is the arctic fox, which had a large distribution during the last glaciation that subsequently contracted at the start of the Holocene. More recently, the arctic fox population in Scandinavia went through a demographic bottleneck owing to human persecution. To investigate the consequences of these processes, we generated mitogenome sequences from a temporal dataset comprising Pleistocene, historical and modern arctic fox samples. We found no evidence that Pleistocene populations in mid-latitude Europe or Russia contributed to the present-day gene pool of the Scandinavian population, suggesting that postglacial climate warming led to local population extinctions. Furthermore, during the twentieth-century bottleneck in Scandinavia, at least half of the mitogenome haplotypes were lost, consistent with a 20-fold reduction in female effective population size. In conclusion, these results suggest that the arctic fox in mainland Western Europe has lost genetic diversity as a result of both past climate change and human persecution. Consequently, it might be particularly vulnerable to the future challenges posed by climate change. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'The past is a foreign country: how much can the fossil record actually inform conservation?'