Assessing prehistoric genetic structure and diversity of North American elk (Cervus elaphus) populations in Alberta, Canada

Camilla Filomena Speller, Brian Kooyman, Antonia Rodrigues, E. G. Langemann, Richard Jobin, Dongya Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


North American elk (Cervus elaphus L., 1758) are an important component of Canada’s natural ecosystems. Overhunting and habitat decline in the 19th century led to the near eradication of Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni Bailey, 1935) and Manitoban elk (Cervus elaphus manitobensis Millais, 1915) within Alberta. Though elk populations have been restored within provincial and national parks, it is unknown to what degree historic population declines affected overall genetic diversity and population structuring of the two subspecies. This study targeted 551 bp of mitochondrial D-loop DNA from 50 elk remains recovered from 16 archaeological sites (2260 BCE (before common era) to 1920 CE (common era)) to examine the former genetic diversity and population structure of Alberta’s historic elk populations. Comparisons of ancient and modern haplotype and nucleotide diversity suggest that historic population declines reduced the mitochondrial diversity of Manitoban elk, while translocation of animals from Yellowstone National Park in the early 20th century served to maintain the diversity of Rocky Mountain populations. Gene flow between the two subspecies was significantly higher in the past than today, suggesting that the
two subspecies previously formed a continuous population. These data on precontact genetic diversity and gene flow in Alberta elk provide essential baseline data integral for elk management and conservation in the province.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-298
Number of pages14
JournalCanadian journal of zoology-Revue canadienne de zoologie
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


  • Alberta
  • North American Elk
  • subspecies

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