Probably the first extinction event in the first decade of the 21st century in Europe, the sad history of the Pyrenean ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) is a powerful example of the ever-increasing worldwide species loss due to causes related to human activity. However, it can give us valuable insights into what needs to be done (or avoided) to stop this extinction spiral.
The distribution of this subspecies of the Iberian ibex was restricted to the French and Spanish Pyrenees. The first mention of it in an official written document, dating back to 1767, actually indicates that it is extremely rare. Like many other mountain goats, their hunting was nearly extinct before it was forbidden to kill them in 1913. Neither the Ordesa & Monte Perdido National Park Foundation nor a conservation project funded by the European LIFE program could halt the extinction of the Pyrenees. Ibex was eventually officially approved in January 6, 2000. But the story of this charismatic animal did not end there – a controversial cloning program began immediately without scientific agreement or support from regional environmental NGOs, claiming that eradication of the extinction was possible even in the absence of further acid studies Nuclear.
To find out more about the drivers of extinction, an international team of 7 nationalities built a database of all known museum specimens and reconstructed the demographic history of pyrenean ibex based on DNA evidence. Their research has been published in an open-access and peer-reviewed journal Zoology and Evolution.
The research found that after a population expansion between 14,000 and 29,000 years ago (which is very recent from a genetic point of view), a major loss of genetic diversity followed between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago, and continues to the present. By that time, the wild ibex was also living outside the Pyrenees mountain range, but, gradually, its distribution was reduced to only one valley in Ordesa National Park in the Spanish Pyrenees.
Written sources confirm pyrense hunting since the 14th century, and during the 19th and 20th centuries it became a popular target for bounty hunters. There is no doubt that hunting played an important role in reducing their numbers and area of distribution, but it cannot – with the currently available information – be identified as the straw that broke the camel’s back. Infectious diseases that originate from livestock (for example, those caused by blue tongue virus, BTV, and sarcops) are able to eliminate other strains of Iberian ibex in very short periods of time.
While the relative contribution of the various factors remains largely unknown, hunting and diseases transmitted from other animals appear to have been effective in dramatically reducing the number of pyrenes over the past two centuries, as they have been operating on an already genetically vulnerable population. This low genetic diversity, combined with inbreeding depression and low fertility, caused populations to exceed the minimum viable size – from that point onwards, extinction was inevitable.
This case study demonstrates the importance of historical biological populations for genetic analyzes of extinct species. As part of this research, the privately owned 140-year-old trophy kept in Pau, France, has been coded indicating that individuals may own items of high value. Given the lack of knowledge of these resources, the authors advocate the creation of a public online database of private groups that host biological materials for the benefit of biodiversity studies.
Forcina G, Woutersen K, Sánchez-Ramírez S, Angelone S, Crampe JP, Pérez JM, Fandos P, Granados JE, Jowers MJ (2021) Demographics reveal the population expansion of recently extinct Iberian fossils. Zoology and Evolution 97 (1): 211-221. https: /