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Genetic Analysis of Camelids

Sponsored by the Austrian Science Fund FWF Projects P21084-B17 & P247006-B25

Genetic origins of old world camelids

Our group investigates the evolutionary history and domestication of the dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) and the Bactrian camel (C. bactrianus). We ask when and where modern camels evolved, and how genetically diverse Old World camels are.

With our research we want to contribute to:

  • in-situ conservation of the world’s last Wild Bactrian camels (C. ferus)
  • conservation of livestock biodiversity resources

Human and camel history are 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. 

An explanation of dromedary domestication (Youtube)

The team

Sven Winter, PhD, Postdoc

René Meißner, PhD Student (FWF I 5081-B)
Zhipeng Jia (Chinese Research Council)

Scientific partners

Judit Vörös, Natural History Museum Budapest
Balint Halpern, MME Birdlife Hungary
Petr Horin, University of Veterinary Sciences Brno, Czech Republic


Tamas Akos Brokes (Master Student)
Pauline Charruau (PhD Studentin)
Jean Elbers, PhD (Postdoc) 
Tom William Fulton, Bachelor Student/Praktikant
Sara Lado, PhD Student (FWF 29623-B)
Sarita Mahtani-Williams, BSc
Elmira Mohandesan (Postdoc)
Robert Fitak (Postdoc)
Lukas Lipp (Master Student)
Lisa Preier, MSc
Katja Silbermayr (PhD Studentin)

Phylogeography of African and Asiatic cheetahs

We also study the phylogeography and evolution of African and Asiatic cheetahs and investigate the distribution of the subspecies.  One research question concerns the genetic distinctiveness of subspecies.