Ancient DNA reveals a lack of habitat tracking in the Arctic fox

Centro UCM-ISCIII de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos, C/ Sinesio Delgado 4, Pabellón 14, 28029 Madrid, Spain.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.67). 05/2007; 104(16):6726-9. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0701341104
Source: PubMed


How species respond to an increased availability of habitat, for example at the end of the last glaciation, has been well established. In contrast, little is known about the opposite process, when the amount of habitat decreases. The hypothesis of habitat tracking predicts that species should be able to track both increases and decreases in habitat availability. The alternative hypothesis is that populations outside refugia become extinct during periods of unsuitable climate. To test these hypotheses, we used ancient DNA techniques to examine genetic variation in the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) through an expansion/contraction cycle. The results show that the arctic fox in midlatitude Europe became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene and did not track the habitat when it shifted to the north. Instead, a high genetic similarity between the extant populations in Scandinavia and Siberia suggests an eastern origin for the Scandinavian population at the end of the last glaciation. These results provide new insights into how species respond to climate change, since they suggest that populations are unable to track decreases in habitat avaliability. This implies that arctic species may be particularly vulnerable to increases in global temperatures.

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    • "Larger organisms may also be unable to undergo short-term adaptation processes rapidly enough to keep up with changing environments (i.e., the top-down effect) (see Guthrie, 2003) because of their intrinsic characteristics, such as long gestation and generation times (Johnson, 2002; Lister, 2004). As a result, the extinction risk will increase to the highest levels when habitat tracking is not possible for large-bodied species (see Dalén et al., 2007 for an empirical example). However, because smallbodied species are often better suited to short-term adaptations (Smith et al., 1995), the lower probabilistic extinction boundary may "
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