Origins of cattle on Chirikof Island, Alaska, elucidated from genome-wide SNP genotypes.
Feral livestock may harbor genetic variation of commercial, scientific, historical or esthetic value. The origins and uniqueness of feral cattle on Chirikof Island, Alaska, are uncertain. The island is now part of the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge and Federal wildlife managers want grazing to cease, presumably leading to demise of the cattle. Here we characterize the cattle of Chirikof Island relative to extant breeds and discern their origins. Our analyses support the inference that Yakut cattle from Russia arrived first on Chirikof Island, then ∼120 years ago the first European taurine cattle were introduced to the island, and finally a large wave of Hereford cattle were introduced on average 40 years ago. In addition, this mixture of European and East-Asian cattle is unique compared with other North American breeds and we find evidence that natural selection in the relatively harsh environment of Chirikof Island has further impacted their genetic architecture. These results provide an objective basis for decisions regarding conservation of the Chirikof Island cattle.