Mitochondrial DNA Analysis Clarifies Taxonomic Status of the Northernmost Snow Sheep ( Ovis nivicola) Population

Life (Basel). 2021 Mar 18;11(3):252. doi: 10.3390/life11030252.

Abstract

Currently, the intraspecific taxonomy of snow sheep (Ovis nivicola) is controversial and needs to be specified using DNA molecular genetic markers. In our previous work using whole-genome single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis, we found that the population inhabiting Kharaulakh Ridge was genetically different from the other populations of Yakut subspecies to which it was usually referred. Here, our study was aimed at the clarification of taxonomic status of Kharaulakh snow sheep using mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. A total of 87 specimens from five different geographic locations of Yakut snow sheep as well as 20 specimens of other recognized subspecies were included in this study. We identified 19 haplotypes, two of which belonged to the population from Kharaulakh Ridge. Median-joining network and Bayesian tree analyses revealed that Kharaulakh population clustered separately from all the other Yakut snow sheep. The divergence time between Kharaulakh population and Yakut snow sheep was estimated as 0.48 ± 0.19 MYA. Thus, the study of the mtDNA cytb sequences confirmed the results of genome-wide SNP analysis. Taking into account the high degree of divergence of Kharaulakh snow sheep from other groups, identified by both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA markers, we propose to classify the Kharaulakh population as a separate subspecies.

Keywords: Ovis nivicola lydekkeri; Yakut snow sheep; bighorn; cytochrome b; mtDNA; taxonomy; wild sheep.