Where do our deer come from?

A collaboration between researchers from Iberian and American universities reveals the evolutionary history of the deer (Cervus elaphus) in the Iberian Peninsula and its relationship with other European populations. The team, led by researchers from the University of Porto (CIBIO-InBIO), Portugal (https://cibio.up.pt) and the University of Castilla la Mancha and CISC (IREC), Spain (www.irec.es), applied genetic tools, predictive models of historical distribution, and analysis of fossil records. This study has just been published in the journal PLoS ONE.?

Red deer widely distributed throughout Eurasia, and are the largest wild herbivores of the Iberian ecosystems. The study finds a clear genetic differentiation between the current deer populations of the Iberian Peninsula and the remaining European populations as a result of a divergent evolution initiated during the last glacial maximum (about 27-19 thousand years ago). Everything points to the existence of a refuge, a region of favorable habitat that allowed the survival of the deer, north of the Pyrenees (in the south of France, south of the British Isles or some intermediate region currently under the sea). It is likely that the recolonization of the western European continent after the glacial cycle has taken place from these peripheral populations, and not from Iberian populations as previously thought. As a result of this process of recolonization, the Iberian Peninsula hosts an enormous diversity of deer genetic lines. However, this diversity is threatened by introductions of deer from other sources. Thousands of years of evolution and adaptation of the deer to the Iberian ecosystems may be in danger due to introductions.


Queirós J, Acevedo P, Santos JPV, Barasona J, Beltran-Beck B, González-Barrio D, Armenteros JA, Diez-Delgado I, Boadella M, Mera IF, Ruiz-Fons JF, Vicente J, Fuente J, Gortázar C, Searle JB, Alves PC (2018) Red deer in Iberia: molecular ecological studies in a southern refugium and inferences on European postglacial colonization history. PLOS ONE. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0210282