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Barcoding the largest animals on earth: on-going challenges and molecular solutions in the taxonomic identification of ancient cetaceans

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Publication details

JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
DateAccepted/In press - 28 Apr 2016
DatePublished (current) - 1 Aug 2016
Number of pages11
Original languageEnglish


Over the last few centuries, many cetacean species have witnessed dramatic global declines due to industrial overharvesting and other anthropogenic influences, and thus are a key target for conservation. Whale bones recovered from archaeological and paleontological contexts can provide essential baseline information on the past geographic distribution and abundance of species required for developing informed conservation policies. Here we review the challenges with identifying whale bones through traditional anatomical methods, as well as the opportunities provided by new molecular analyses. Through a case study focused on the North Sea, we demonstrate how the utility of this (pre)historic data is currently limited by a lack of accurate taxonomic information for the majority of ancient cetacean remains. We discuss current opportunities presented by molecular identification methods such as DNA barcoding and collagen peptide mass fingerprinting (ZooMS), and highlight the importance of molecular identifications in assessing ancient species distributions through a case study focused on the Mediterranean. We conclude by considering high-throughput molecular approaches such as hybridisation capture followed by next-generation-sequencing as cost-effective approaches for enhancing the ecological informativeness of these ancient sample sets.

Bibliographical note

© Authors 2016

    Research areas

  • Ancient DNA, Archaeozoology, Cetaceans, Collagen peptide mass fingerprinting, ZooMS, SPECIES IDENTIFICATION


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