Analysis of mitochondrial DNA in Bolivian llama, alpaca and vicuna populations: a contribution to the phylogeny of the South American camelids

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The objectives of this work were to assess the mtDNA diversity of Bolivian South American camelid (SAC) populations and to shed light on the evolutionary relationships between the Bolivian camelids and other populations of SACs. We have analysed two different mtDNA regions: the complete coding region of the MT-CYB gene and 513 bp of the D-loop region. The populations sampled included Bolivian llamas, alpacas and vicunas, and Chilean guanacos. High levels of genetic diversity were observed in the studied populations. In general, MT-CYB was more variable than D-loop. On a species level, the vicunas showed the lowest genetic variability, followed by the guanacos, alpacas and llamas. Phylogenetic analyses performed by including additional available mtDNA sequences from the studied species confirmed the existence of the two monophyletic clades previously described by other authors for guanacos (G) and vicunas (V). Significant levels of mtDNA hybridization were found in the domestic species. Our sequence analyses revealed significant sequence divergence within clade G, and some of the Bolivian llamas grouped with the majority of the southern guanacos. This finding supports the existence of more than the one llama domestication centre in South America previously suggested on the basis of archaeozoological evidence. Additionally, analysis of D-loop sequences revealed two new matrilineal lineages that are distinct from the previously reported G and V clades. The results presented here represent the first report on the population structure and genetic variability of Bolivian camelids and may help to elucidate the complex and dynamic domestication process of SAC populations.

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