IBE (CSIC-UPF): After 100 years in captivity, a look at the world's last truly wild horses

IBE (CSIC-UPF): After 100 years in captivity, a look at the world's last truly wild horses

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EXTREME DEMOGRAPHIC COLLAPSE - The last of the world's wild horses is Przewalski's horse. During the last hundred years the population has gone virtually extinct but thanks to a massive conservation effort the population is now recovering. Geneticists from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen and the Institute of Evolutionary Biologogy (CSIC-UPF), in between others, report in the journal Current Biology that in spite of a breeding programme based on less than 15 individuals the population is genetically diverse. This is good news for other endangered species.

In the 1870s, the world’s last truly wild horses, known as Przewalski’s horses, lived in the Asian steppes of Mongolia and China. But by the 1960s, those wild horses were no longer free. Only one captive population remained, descended from about a dozen wild-caught individuals and perhaps four domesticated horses. Thanks to major conservation efforts, the current population of Przewalski’s horses numbers over 2,000 individuals, with about a quarter living in reintroduction reserves.

Now, researchers, including Tomàs Marquès-Bonet from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF), reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on September 24 have sequenced the complete genomes of eleven Przewalski’s horses, including all of the founding lineages and five historical, museum specimens dating back more than a century, and compared them to the genomes of 28 domesticated horses to provide a detailed look at the endangered animals, both past and present.

“The novelty of our approach is to have not only surveyed the present-day genomic diversity of Przewalski’s horses, but also to monitor their past genomic diversity, leveraging on museum specimens,” says Ludovic Orlando of the University of Copenhagen’s Natural History Museum of Denmark. “That way we could assess the genetic impact of more than 100 years of captivity in what used to be a critically endangered animal.”

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Der Sarkissian C, (2015). Evolutionary Genomics and Conservation of the Endangered Przewalski’s Horse. Current Biology