New Trent University research, which has discovered “exceptional diversity” in caribou across North America, is fundamental to conservation efforts.
Biology professor Dr. Paul Wilson and Dr. Micheline Manseau, a research scientist at Environment & Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and adjunct faculty member in Trent’s Environmental and Life Sciences program, and Trent post-doctoral research associate Dr. Rebecca Taylor used whole-genome sequences to show that animals previously considered the same ecotype in fact evolved from independent sources. The open-access research was recently published in the popular journal Molecular Ecology.
“It was surprising to us that the boreal caribou in the Sahtù region of the Northwest Territories arose from a refugia in Alaska-Beringia during the last Ice Age, distinct from the more southern evolved distribution of boreal caribou,” said Professor Wilson.
The differentiation will help conserve caribou because the animals are currently grouped as one unit and listed as threatened under the Species-at-Risk Act. Now, according to Dr. Taylor, these caribou would be eligible for consideration as two different conservation units based on their distinct evolutionary histories, each warranting their own consideration for risk status, particularly in light of climate change.
To further enhance conservation strategies, Professor Manseau adds, “these long-term collaborative research efforts allow us to better understand this variation and the way each caribou unit has adapted over time.”