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Phylogenetic Analysis of Snow Sheep (Ovis nivicola) and Closely Related Taxa
Journal of Heredity
  • Tom D. Bunch, Utah State University
  • C. Wu
  • Y-P. Zhang
  • S. Wang
Document Type
Oxford University Press
Publication Date

Based on mitochondrial cytochrome b gene sequence analysis, the history of true sheep (Ovis) began approximately 3.12 million years ago (MYA). The evolution of Ovis resulted in three generally accepted genetic groups: Argaliforms, Moufloniforms, and Pachyceriforms. The Pachyceriforms of the subgenus Pachyceros comprise the thin-horn sheep Ovis nivicola (snow sheep), Ovis dalli (Dall and Stone sheep), and Ovis canadensis (Rocky Mountain and desert bighorn). North America wild sheep (O. canadensis and O. dalli) evolved separately from Eurasian wild sheep and diverged from each other about 1.41 MYA. Ancestral stock that gave rise to snow sheep, Moufloniforms, and Argaliforms occurred 2.3 MYA, which then gave rise to two different extant lines of snow sheep that diverged from each other about 1.96 MYA. The more recent nivicola line is genetically closer to the North American wild sheep and may represent a close association during the refugium when Alaska and Siberia were connected by the Bering land bridge. The earlier period of evolution of the Pachyceriforms suggests they may have first evolved in Eurasia, the oldest ancestor then giving rise to North American wild sheep, and that a canadensis-like ancestor most likely gave rise to nivicola. Cytogenetic analysis further validates that the standard diploid number for modern nivicola is 52.

Citation Information
Bunch, T.D., Wu, C., Zhang, Y-P., & Wang, S. 2006. Phylogenetic analysis of snow sheep (Ovis nivicola) and closely related taxa J. Hered. 97:21-30.