Genetic analysis of camelids

Camels in the desert (Photo P. Burger)
Photo of 3 camels in the desert 1
Historic relief of a camel (Photo P. Burger)
Photo of a cave drawing of a camel 2
Taking samples from a domestic camel (Foto P. Burger)
Photo of a camel head with researchers 3
Domestic camels (Photo P. Burger)
Photo of domesticated camels 4

Research on the genetic origin of old world camels

The history of man and the camel is closely linked, especially in arid regions, where people could not have survived without these extraordinary animals. Frequent incidences of drought, one of the consequences of global climate change, are increasingly affecting  ever larger areas.  Thus camels are indispensable as sustainable livestock and are a focus of economic activities and for scientific research.The domestication of camels (Camelus bactrianus and Camelus dromedarius) took place later than that of most domesticated animal species, about 3,000 to 6,000 years ago (Uerpmann and Uerpmann 2002 and 2012, Peters et al. 1998).

The only surviving wild camel species, the two-humped wild Bactrian camel (Camelus ferus), only exists in small populations in the Great Gobi A nature reserve in Mongolia and in the deserts Lop Nuur and Taklamakan in China.Genetic analyses can help to determine the degree pf consanguinity of these wild animals with domesticated camels and the degree of hybridization of the wild populations. 

In contrast to previous assumptions that these wild animals are derived from reintroduced domestic camels we were able to prove that they actually form a separate species.  The species lineages split about 0.5 - 1.2 million years ago from a common ancestor with the Bactrian camels. Similar to the case of wild horses we now expect that today's wild camels, although closely related to the domesticated camels, are not their direct ancestors. The pool from which Bactrian camels were domesticated differs clearly from today´s wild camels. 


Dromedary domestication explained (Youtube) - a science communication project of the FWF (WKP 59)


Our science sponsors

  • FWF 5, Projects P21084-B17 & P247006-B25


Scientific contact Pamela Burger

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