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."
|Contact: Caron Lett|
University of York