Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Vanishing native American dog lineages

Santiago Castroviejo-Fisher123, Pontus Skoglund1, Raúl Valadez4, Carles Vilà5 and Jennifer A Leonard15*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Evolutionary Biology, Uppsala University, 75236 Uppsala, Sweden

2 Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia

3 Department of Herpetology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, USA

4 Laboratorio de Paleozoología, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Circuito Exterior, Ciudad Universitaria, C.P. 04510, Distrito Federal, México

5 Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics Group, Estación Biológica de Doñana (EBD-CSIC), Avd. Américo Vespucio s/n, 41092 Seville, Spain

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:73  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-73

Published: 21 March 2011



Dogs were an important element in many native American cultures at the time Europeans arrived. Although previous ancient DNA studies revealed the existence of unique native American mitochondrial sequences, these have not been found in modern dogs, mainly purebred, studied so far.


We identified many previously undescribed mitochondrial control region sequences in 400 dogs from rural and isolated areas as well as street dogs from across the Americas. However, sequences of native American origin proved to be exceedingly rare, and we estimate that the native population contributed only a minor fraction of the gene pool that constitutes the modern population.


The high number of previously unidentified haplotypes in our sample suggests that a lot of unsampled genetic variation exists in non-breed dogs. Our results also suggest that the arrival of European colonists to the Americas may have led to an extensive replacement of the native American dog population by the dogs of the invaders.