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The Most Southern Reindeer

The Tuva reindeer quantity has fallen down to the critical level, but the population still preserves sufficient genetic diversity.

Such conclusion has been made by specialists of the Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, Russian Academy of Sciences, who worked at the deer-raising farms in the Todzhinski Region, Tuva. Control over genetic markers and well thought-out breeding system will help to protect the most southern domestic reindeer population from degeneration. The researchers assessed genetic diversity by comparing sequences of animals’ mitochondrial DNA. Material for investigation was received from pieces of dried unprocessed hides of recently slaughtered reindeer.

Mountain taiga of Southern Siberia is a small deer-raising islet distant from the main natural habitat. The major part of domestic reindeer inhibits Russian tundra from Kola Peninsula through Chukotka, in Siberia, reindeer lives even in mountain taiga. The taiga deer-raising zone occupies the territory through to 60° north latitude. One of the most southern domestic reindeer populations inhabits Republic of Tyva (Tuva). Main herds of the Tuva population are concentrated in the north-east of the Republic, in the Todzhinsky Region. Small ethnic groups – the Tofa in the Irkutsk Region, the Soyots in Buryatia, and the Mongolian Duha – living in the neighborhood also breed deer. In contrast to reindeer-breeders of Southern Siberia and Europe, who pasture huge reindeer herds in tundra and mainly use them for meat-preparing, people of Southern Siberia and Northern Mongolia breed small herds in taiga and alpine tundra. They need reindeer predominantly as pack and saddle animals, and as milch animals.

The Golden Age of the Tuva deer-raising fell on the late 30-s of the 20th century when reindeer quantity was equal to 19 thousand head, thus approaching the maximum. However, since 1980 through 2000, the quantity of reindeer dropped abruptly. There remained about a thousand head of reindeer, and that means that in case of any epidemic the Tuva domestic reindeer population may simply vanish from the face of the earth. Degeneration is the second threat to a scanty population, as small livestock is often entailed by genetic uniformity. The Moscow geneticists came to Tuva particularly to assess genetic diversity.

The researchers managed to single out mitochondrial DNA from 29 hides, among which they discovered sufficient genetic diversity, although more than half of slaughtered animals had descended from the same female. Analysis of mitochondrial genome allows to evaluate only maternal diversity. As only one sire ususally falls on a herd of 5 to 20 females in the Todzhinsky Region, genetic diversity in terms of chromosomal DNA may be lower than that in terms of mitochondrial one. This is still to be verified. In the researchers’ opinion, the Tuva reindeer population needs continuous control over genetic diversity. In this case, there remains hope for saving the most southern reindeer from degeneration.

Sergey Komarov | alfa
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