Jared E. Decker, Jeremy F. Taylor, Matthew A. Cronin, Leeson J. Alexander, Juha Kantanen, Ann Millbrooke, Robert D. Schnabel, Michael D. MacNeil
Feral livestock may harbor genetic variation of commercial, scientific, historical or esthetic value. 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 Chirikof Island cattle relative to extant breeds and discern their origins. Our analyses support the inference that Russian cattle arrived first on Chirikof Island, then approximately 95 years ago the first European taurine cattle were introduced to the island, and finally Hereford cattle were introduced about 40 years ago. While clearly Bos taurus taurus, the Chirikof Island cattle appear at least as distinct as other recognized breeds. Further, this mixture of European and East-Asian cattle is unique compared to 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.