An analysis of the ancient and modern DNA of the single-humped ‘Arabian’ camel or dromedary reveals how human societies have influenced the animal’s genetic diversity.
Long-distance and back-and-forth movements in ancient camel caravan routes are one way this has happened.
The camels have long been a source of food and transport for desert communities, and a vital resource in trade and agriculture in hot, arid regions. That’s why the scientists responsible for this study believe that in the context of climate change and advancing desert landscapes, scrutinizing dromedary’s biology, reproduction and adaptation to hostile terrain has acquired a new level of importance.
“The dromedary has out-performed all other domesticated mammals, including the donkey, in arid environments and continues to provide essential commodities to millions of people living in marginal agro-ecological areas,” says lead author Faisal Almathen from the Department of Veterinary Health and Animal Husbandry at King Faisal University.
“There is very little defined population structure in modern dromedaries. We believe this is a consequence of cross-continental back and forth movements along historic trading routes,” he adds. “Our results point to extensive gene flow which affects all regions except East Africa where dromedary populations have remained relatively isolated.”
For this study, the researchers collected and analysed genetic information from a sample of 1,083 living dromedaries from 21 countries across the world. The team also examined ancient DNA sequences from bone samples from early-domesticated dromedaries from 400-1870 AD and wild ones from 5,000-1,000 BC.
The international team of scientists was led by geneticists from The University of Nottingham, the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia. The research itself is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA.