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The case of an arctic wild ass highlights the utility of ancient DNA for validating problematic identifications in museum collections

Citation

Vershinina, Alisa; Kapp, Joshua D.; Baryshnikov, Gennady; Shapiro, Beth (2020), The case of an arctic wild ass highlights the utility of ancient DNA for validating problematic identifications in museum collections, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.7291/D13X0V

Abstract

Museum collections are essential for reconstructing and understanding past biodiversity. Many museum specimens are, however, challenging to identify. Museum samples may be incomplete, have an unusual morphology, or represent juvenile individuals, all of which complicate accurate identification. In some cases, inaccurate identification can lead to false biogeographic reconstructions with cascading impacts on paleontological and paleoecological research. Here we analyze an unusual Equid mandible found in the Far North of the Taymyr peninsula that was identified morphologically as Equus hemionus, an ancestor of present-day Asiatic wild asses. If correct, this identification represents the only finding of a putative Late Pleistocene hemione in the Arctic region, and is therefore critical to understanding wild ass evolution and paleoecology. To confirm the accuracy of this specimen’s taxonomic assignment, we used ancient DNA and mitochondrial hybridization capture to identify and place this specimen in the larger equid phylogeny. We find that the specimen is actually a member of E. caballus, the ancestor of domestic horses. Our study demonstrates the utility of ancient DNA to validate morphological identification, in particular of incomplete, otherwise problematic, or taxonomically unusual museum specimens.