Reconstructing the origin and spread of horse domestication in the Eurasian steppe.
ABSTRACT: Despite decades of research across multiple disciplines, the early history of horse domestication remains poorly understood. On the basis of current evidence from archaeology, mitochondrial DNA, and Y-chromosomal sequencing, a number of different domestication scenarios have been proposed, ranging from the spread of domestic horses out of a restricted primary area of domestication to the domestication of numerous distinct wild horse populations. In this paper, we reconstruct both the population genetic structure of the extinct wild progenitor of domestic horses, Equus ferus, and the origin and spread of horse domestication in the Eurasian steppes by fitting a spatially explicit stepping-stone model to genotype data from >300 horses sampled across northern Eurasia. We find strong evidence for an expansion of E. ferus out of eastern Eurasia about 160 kya, likely reflecting the colonization of Eurasia by this species. Our best-fitting scenario further suggests that horse domestication originated in the western part of the Eurasian steppe and that domestic herds were repeatedly restocked with local wild horses as they spread out of this area. By showing that horse domestication was initiated in the western Eurasian steppe and that the spread of domestic herds across Eurasia involved extensive introgression from the wild, the scenario of horse domestication proposed here unites evidence from archaeology, mitochondrial DNA, and Y-chromosomal DNA.
Project description:Archaeological and genetic evidence concerning the time and mode of wild horse (Equus ferus) domestication is still debated. High levels of genetic diversity in horse mtDNA have been detected when analyzing the control region; recurrent mutations, however, tend to blur the structure of the phylogenetic tree. Here, we brought the horse mtDNA phylogeny to the highest level of molecular resolution by analyzing 83 mitochondrial genomes from modern horses across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. Our data reveal 18 major haplogroups (A-R) with radiation times that are mostly confined to the Neolithic and later periods and place the root of the phylogeny corresponding to the Ancestral Mare Mitogenome at ~130-160 thousand years ago. All haplogroups were detected in modern horses from Asia, but F was only found in E. przewalskii--the only remaining wild horse. Therefore, a wide range of matrilineal lineages from the extinct E. ferus underwent domestication in the Eurasian steppes during the Eneolithic period and were transmitted to modern E. caballus breeds. Importantly, now that the major horse haplogroups have been defined, each with diagnostic mutational motifs (in both the coding and control regions), these haplotypes could be easily used to (i) classify well-preserved ancient remains, (ii) (re)assess the haplogroup variation of modern breeds, including Thoroughbreds, and (iii) evaluate the possible role of mtDNA backgrounds in racehorse performance.
Project description:Present-day domestic horses are immensely diverse in their maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA, yet they show very little variation on their paternally inherited Y chromosome. Although it has recently been shown that Y chromosomal diversity in domestic horses was higher at least until the Iron Age, when and why this diversity disappeared remain controversial questions. We genotyped 16 recently discovered Y chromosomal single-nucleotide polymorphisms in 96 ancient Eurasian stallions spanning the early domestication stages (Copper and Bronze Age) to the Middle Ages. Using this Y chromosomal time series, which covers nearly the entire history of horse domestication, we reveal how Y chromosomal diversity changed over time. Our results also show that the lack of multiple stallion lineages in the extant domestic population is caused by neither a founder effect nor random demographic effects but instead is the result of artificial selection-initially during the Iron Age by nomadic people from the Eurasian steppes and later during the Roman period. Moreover, the modern domestic haplotype probably derived from another, already advantageous, haplotype, most likely after the beginning of the domestication. In line with recent findings indicating that the Przewalski and domestic horse lineages remained connected by gene flow after they diverged about 45,000 years ago, we present evidence for Y chromosomal introgression of Przewalski horses into the gene pool of European domestic horses at least until medieval times.
Project description:Megafaunas worldwide have been decimated during the late Quaternary. Many extirpated species were keystone species, and their loss likely has had large effects on ecosystems. Therefore, it is increasingly considered how megafaunas can be restored. The horse (Equus ferus) is highly relevant in this context as it was once extremely widespread and, despite severe range contraction, survives in the form of domestic, feral, and originally wild horses. Further, it is a functionally important species, notably due to its ability to graze coarse, abrasive grasses. Here, we used species distribution modelling to link locations of wild-living E. ferus populations to climate to estimate climatically suitable areas for wild-living E. ferus. These models were combined with habitat information and past and present distributions of equid species to identify areas suitable for rewilding with E. ferus. Mean temperature in the coldest quarter, precipitation in the coldest quarter, and precipitation in the driest quarter emerged as the best climatic predictors. The distribution models estimated the climate to be suitable in large parts of the Americas, Eurasia, Africa, and Australia and, combined with habitat mapping, revealed large areas to be suitable for rewilding with horses within its former range, including up to 1.5 million ha within five major rewilding areas in Europe. The widespread occurrence of suitable climates and habitats within E. ferus' former range together with its important functions cause it to be a key candidate for rewilding in large parts of the world. Successful re-establishment of wild-living horse populations will require handling the complexity of human-horse relations, for example, potential conflicts with ranchers and other agriculturalists or with other conservation aims, perception as a non-native invasive species in some regions, and coverage by legislation for domestic animals.
Project description:A growing number of researchers studying horse domestication come to a conclusion that this process happened in multiple locations and involved multiple wild maternal lines. The most promising approach to address this problem involves mitochondrial haplotype comparison of wild and domestic horses from various locations coupled with studies of possible migration routes of the ancient shepherds. Here, we sequenced complete mitochondrial genomes of six horses from burials of the Ukok plateau (Russia, Altai Mountains) dated from 2.7 to 1.4 thousand years before present and a single late Pleistocene wild horse from the neighboring region (Denisova cave). Sequencing data indicates that the wild horse belongs to an extinct pre-domestication lineage. Integration of the domestic horse data with known Eurasian haplotypes of a similar age revealed two distinct groups: the first one widely distributed in Europe and presumably imported to Altai, and the second one specific for Altai Mountains and surrounding area.
Project description:Wild horses thrived across Eurasia until the Last Glacial Maximum to collapse after the beginning of the Holocene. The interplay of climate change, species adaptability to different environments, and human domestication in horse history is still lacking coherent continental-scale analysis integrating different lines of evidence. We assembled temporal and geographical information on 3070 horse occurrences across Eurasia, frequency data for 1120 archeological layers in Europe, and matched them to paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental simulations for the Late Quaternary. Climate controlled the distribution of horses, and they inhabited regions in Europe and Asia with different climates and ecosystem productivity, suggesting plasticity to populate different environments. Their decline in Europe during the Holocene appears associated with an increasing loss and fragmentation of open habitats. Europe was the most likely source for the spread of horses toward more temperate regions, and we propose both Iberia and central Asia as potential centers of domestication.
Project description:Horses have been valued for their diversity of coat colour since prehistoric times; this is especially the case since their domestication in the Caspian steppe in ~3,500 BC. Although we can assume that human preferences were not constant, we have only anecdotal information about how domestic horses were influenced by humans. Our results from genotype analyses show a significant increase in spotted coats in early domestic horses (Copper Age to Iron Age). In contrast, medieval horses carried significantly fewer alleles for these phenotypes, whereas solid phenotypes (i.e., chestnut) became dominant. This shift may have been supported because of (i) pleiotropic disadvantages, (ii) a reduced need to separate domestic horses from their wild counterparts, (iii) a lower religious prestige, or (iv) novel developments in weaponry. These scenarios may have acted alone or in combination. However, the dominance of chestnut is a remarkable feature of the medieval horse population.
Project description:Domestic horses represent a genetic paradox: although they have the greatest number of maternal lineages (mtDNA) of all domestic species, their paternal lineages are extremely homogeneous on the Y-chromosome. In order to address their huge mtDNA variation and the origin and history of maternal lineages in domestic horses, we analyzed 1961 partial d-loop sequences from 207 ancient remains and 1754 modern horses. The sample set ranged from Alaska and North East Siberia to the Iberian Peninsula and from the Late Pleistocene to modern times. We found a panmictic Late Pleistocene horse population ranging from Alaska to the Pyrenees. Later, during the Early Holocene and the Copper Age, more or less separated sub-populations are indicated for the Eurasian steppe region and Iberia. Our data suggest multiple domestications and introgressions of females especially during the Iron Age. Although all Eurasian regions contributed to the genetic pedigree of modern breeds, most haplotypes had their roots in Eastern Europe and Siberia. We found 87 ancient haplotypes (Pleistocene to Mediaeval Times); 56 of these haplotypes were also observed in domestic horses, although thus far only 39 haplotypes have been confirmed to survive in modern breeds. Thus, at least seventeen haplotypes of early domestic horses have become extinct during the last 5,500 years. It is concluded that the large diversity of mtDNA lineages is not a product of animal breeding but, in fact, represents ancestral variability.
Project description:The mammal gut microbiome, which includes host microbes and their respective genes, is now recognized as an essential second genome that provides critical functions to the host. In humans, studies have revealed that lifestyle strongly influences the composition and diversity of the gastrointestinal microbiome. We hypothesized that these trends in humans may be paralleled in mammals subjected to anthropogenic forces such as domestication and captivity, in which diets and natural life histories are often greatly modified. We investigated fecal microbiomes of Przewalski's horse (PH; Equus ferus przewalskii), the only horses alive today not successfully domesticated by humans, and herded, domestic horse (E. f. caballus) living in adjacent natural grasslands. We discovered PH fecal microbiomes hosted a distinct and more diverse community of bacteria compared to domestic horses, which is likely partly explained by different plant diets as revealed by trnL maker data. Within the PH population, four individuals were born in captivity in European zoos and hosted a strikingly low diversity of fecal microbiota compared to individuals born in natural reserves in France and Mongolia. These results suggest that anthropogenic forces can dramatically reshape equid gastrointestinal microbiomes, which has broader implications for the conservation management of endangered mammals.
Project description:Despite the important roles that horses have played in human history, particularly in the spread of languages and cultures, and correspondingly intensive research on this topic, the origin of domestic horses remains elusive. Several domestication centers have been hypothesized, but most of these have been invalidated through recent paleogenetic studies. Anatolia is a region with an extended history of horse exploitation that has been considered a candidate for the origins of domestic horses but has never been subject to detailed investigation. Our paleogenetic study of pre- and protohistoric horses in Anatolia and the Caucasus, based on a diachronic sample from the early Neolithic to the Iron Age (~8000 to ~1000 BCE) that encompasses the presumed transition from wild to domestic horses (4000 to 3000 BCE), shows the rapid and large-scale introduction of domestic horses at the end of the third millennium BCE. Thus, our results argue strongly against autochthonous independent domestication of horses in Anatolia.
Project description:Dairy pastoralism is integral to contemporary and past lifeways on the eastern Eurasian steppe, facilitating survival in agriculturally challenging environments. While previous research has indicated that ruminant dairy pastoralism was practiced in the region by circa 1300?BC, the origin, extent and diversity of this custom remain poorly understood. Here, we analyse ancient proteins from human dental calculus recovered from geographically diverse locations across Mongolia and spanning 5,000?years. We present the earliest evidence for dairy consumption on the eastern Eurasian steppe by circa 3000?BC and the later emergence of horse milking at circa 1200?BC, concurrent with the first evidence for horse riding. We argue that ruminant dairying contributed to the demographic success of Bronze Age Mongolian populations and that the origins of traditional horse dairy products in eastern Eurasia are closely tied to the regional emergence of mounted herding societies during the late second millennium BC.