Ancient DNA Reveals Genetic Continuity in Mountain Woodland Caribou of the Mackenzie and Selwyn Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada


  • Brandon Letts
  • Tara L. Fulton
  • Mathias Stiller
  • Thomas D. Andrews
  • Glen MacKay
  • Richard Popko
  • Beth Shapiro



ice patch, Redstone herd, ecotype, White River tephra, mitochondrial, barren-ground


We examine the mitochondrial genetic stability of mountain woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in the Mackenzie and Selwyn Mountains, Northwest Territories, over the last 4000 years. Unlike caribou populations in the Yukon, populations in the Northwest Territories show no evidence for mitochondrial genetic turnover during that period, which indicates that they were not adversely affected by the widespread deposition of the White River tephra around 1200 years ago. We detect moderate genetic differentiation between mountain woodland and barren-ground caribou in both territories, lending support to the current subspecies designations. In addition, we identify moderate genetic differentiation between Northwest Territories and western Yukon mountain woodland caribou, suggesting that there has been minimal mixing of matrilines between these herds.