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New insights into the past and recent evolutionary history of the Corsican mouflon (Ovis gmelini musimon) to inform its conservation

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Abstract

Human-mediated species dispersal across the Mediterranean stretches back at least 10,000 years and has left an indelible stamp on present-day biodiversity. Believed to be a descendant of the Asiatic mouflon (Ovis gmelini gmelinii), the Corsican mouflon (O. g. musimon) was translocated during the Neolithic as ancestral livestock by humans migrating from the Fertile Crescent to the Western Mediterranean. Today, two geographically limited and disconnected populations can be found in Corsica. Whether they originated from distinct founders or one ancestral population that later split remains unknown, although such information is pivotal for the species’ management on the island. We genotyped 109 and 176 individuals at the Cytochrome-b gene and 16 loci of the microsatellite DNA, respectively, to gain insights into the natural history of the Corsican mouflon. We found evidence confirming that the Asiatic was the ancestor of the Corsican mouflon, which should thus be unvaryingly referred to as O. g. musimon, i.e. as a subspecies of the Asiatic mouflon. Haplotype divergence dating and the investigation of genetic structure highlighted a strong and ancient genetic differentiation between the two Corsican populations. Approximate Bayesian Computation pointed to the introduction of a single group of founders as the most reliable scenario for the origin of the entire Corsican population. Later, this ancestral stock would have decreased in number, facing genetic bottlenecks and eventually resulting in two divergent demes. Splitting most likely occurred several hundred years ago. Their shared past notwithstanding, we discuss whether the two relic Corsican mouflon populations should be now considered as distinct management units.

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Data availability

Microsatellite data are available in the figshare repository (https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.14555370.v1). Complementary information is available upon reasonable request.

Code availability

Not applicable.

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Acknowledgements

We warmly thank all the professionals from the Office Français de la Biodiversité (formerly Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage), Dominique Odier, the hunters of Chambord and numerous trainees for their technical support in sampling the different mouflon populations. We would like to thank all the technical personnel of Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive (LBBE) for helping with the study’s laboratory steps and Elodie Bonneau and Julie Andru for the first laboratory and genetic analyses. We also gratefully acknowledge the CC Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive/Pôle Rhône-Alpes de Bioinformatique (PRABI) for providing computer resources and Sabrina Renaud for interesting and helpful discussions about Corsica’ history. Finally, we thank the two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on the first version of the manuscript.

Funding

This research project and E. Portanier were funded by the Office Français de la Biodiversité, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 and the Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie Évolutive.

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EP, PC, PB, FS, GB, SD and MG conceptualized and designed the research. PB and FS did the field work. FB provided samples and its expertise. EP, PC, PG, CK and GQ conducted laboratories steps. EP, PC, PG, SD and MG conducted data analyses. All authors contributed in interpreting the results and writing the paper.

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Correspondence to Elodie Portanier.

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All captures, handling and sampling were conducted according to the appropriate national laws for animal welfare, following the ethical conditions detailed in the specific accreditations delivered by the Préfecture de Paris (prefectorial decree n°2009–014) in agreement with the French environmental code (Art. R421-15 to 421–31 and R422-92 to 422–94-1).

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Portanier, E., Chevret, P., Gélin, P. et al. New insights into the past and recent evolutionary history of the Corsican mouflon (Ovis gmelini musimon) to inform its conservation. Conserv Genet 23, 91–107 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-021-01399-2

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