Scientists have recovered DNA from a well-preserved horned lark found in Siberian permafrost.
The results can contribute to explaining the evolution of subspecies, as well as how the mammoth steppe transformed into tundra, forest and steppe biomes at the end of the last Ice Age.
In 2018, a well-preserved frozen bird was found in the ground in the Belaya Gora area of north-eastern Siberia. Researchers at the Centre for Palaeogenetics, a new research center at Stockholm University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History, have studied the bird and the results are now published in the scientific journal Communications Biology. The analyses reveal that the bird is a 46000-year-old female horned lark.
“Not only can we identify the bird as a horned lark. The genetic analysis also suggests that the bird belonged to a population that was a joint ancestor of two subspecies of horned lark living today, one in Siberia, and one in the steppe in Mongolia. This helps us understand how the diversity of subspecies evolves,” says Nicolas Dussex, researcher at the Department of Zoology at Stockholm University.
The result has significance on another level as well. During the last Ice Age, the mammoth steppe spread out over northern Europe and Asia.
The steppe was home to now extinct species such as the woolly mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros.
According to one theory, this ecosystem was a mosaic of habitats such as steppe, tundra and coniferous forest.