Late Quaternary dynamics of Arctic biota from ancient environmental genomics.
During the last glacial-interglacial cycle, Arctic biotas experienced substantial climatic changes, yet the nature, extent and rate of their responses are not fully understood1-8. Here we report a large-scale environmental DNA metagenomic study of ancient plant and mammal communities, analysing 535 permafrost and lake sediment samples from across the Arctic spanning the past 50,000 years. Furthermore, we present 1,541 contemporary plant genome assemblies that were generated as reference sequences. Our study provides several insights into the long-term dynamics of the Arctic biota at the circumpolar and regional scales. Our key findings include: (1) a relatively homogeneous steppe-tundra flora dominated the Arctic during the Last Glacial Maximum, followed by regional divergence of vegetation during the Holocene epoch; (2) certain grazing animals consistently co-occurred in space and time; (3) humans appear to have been a minor factor in driving animal distributions; (4) higher effective precipitation, as well as an increase in the proportion of wetland plants, show negative effects on animal diversity; (5) the persistence of the steppe-tundra vegetation in northern Siberia enabled the late survival of several now-extinct megafauna species, including the woolly mammoth until 3.9 ± 0.2 thousand years ago (ka) and the woolly rhinoceros until 9.8 ± 0.2 ka; and (6) phylogenetic analysis of mammoth environmental DNA reveals a previously unsampled mitochondrial lineage. Our findings highlight the power of ancient environmental metagenomics analyses to advance understanding of population histories and long-term ecological dynamics.
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