Population dynamics and range shifts of moose (Alces alces) during the Late Quaternary

Meirav Meiri, Adrian Lister*, Pavel Kosintsev, Grant Zazula, Ian Barnes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: Late Quaternary climate oscillations had major impacts on species distributions and abundances across the northern Holarctic. While many large mammals in this region went extinct towards the end of the Quaternary, some species survived and flourished. Here, we examine population dynamics and range shifts of one of the most widely distributed of these, the moose (Alces alces). Location: Northern Holarctic. Taxon: Moose (A. alces). Methods: We collected samples of modern and ancient moose from across their present and former range. We assessed their phylogeographical relations using part of the mitochondrial DNA in conjunction with radiocarbon dating to investigate the history of A. alces during the last glacial. Results: This species has a relatively shallow history, with the most recent common ancestor estimated at ca. 150–50 kyr. Ancient samples corroborate that its region of greatest diversity is in east Asia, supporting proposals that this is the region of origin of all extant moose. Both eastern and western haplogroups occur in the Ural Mountains during the last glacial period, implying a broader contact zone than previously proposed. It seems that this species went extinct over much of its northern range during the last glacial maximum (LGM) and recolonized the region with climate warming beginning around 15,000 yr bp. The post-LGM expansion included a movement from northeast Siberia to North America via Beringia, although the northeast Siberian source population is not the one currently occupying that area. Main conclusions: Moose are a relatively recently evolved species but have had a dynamic history. As a large-bodied subarctic browsing species, they were seemingly confined to refugia during full-glacial periods and expanded their range northwards when the boreal forest returned after the LGM. The main modern phylogeographical division is ancient, though its boundary has not remained constant. Moose population expansion into America was roughly synchronous with human and red deer expansion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2223-2234
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • Alces alces
  • Quaternary
  • ancient DNA
  • last glacial maximum
  • mitochondrial DNA
  • moose


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