Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Molecular dating of caprines using ancient DNA sequences of Myotragus balearicus, an extinct endemic Balearic mammal

Carles Lalueza-Fox12*, Jose Castresana3, Lourdes Sampietro1, Tomàs Marquès-Bonet1, Josep Antoni Alcover4 and Jaume Bertranpetit1

Author Affiliations

1 Unitat de Biologia Evolutiva, Facultat de Ciències de la Salut i de la Vida, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Doctor Aiguader 80, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

2 Unitat d'Antropologia, Dept. Biologia Animal, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Avda. Diagonal 645, 08028 Barcelona, Spain

3 Department of Physiology and Molecular Biodiversity, Institut de Biologia Molecular de Barcelona, CSIC, 08034 Barcelona, Spain

4 Institut Mediterrani d'Estudis Avançats de les Illes Balears (CSIC-UIB), Cta. de Valldemosa km 7.5, 07071 Ciutat de Mallorca, Spain

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2005, 5:70  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-5-70

Published: 6 December 2005



Myotragus balearicus was an endemic bovid from the Balearic Islands (Western Mediterranean) that became extinct around 6,000-4,000 years ago. The Myotragus evolutionary lineage became isolated in the islands most probably at the end of the Messinian crisis, when the desiccation of the Mediterranean ended, in a geological date established at 5.35 Mya. Thus, the sequences of Myotragus could be very valuable for calibrating the mammalian mitochondrial DNA clock and, in particular, the tree of the Caprinae subfamily, to which Myotragus belongs.


We have retrieved the complete mitochondrial cytochrome b gene (1,143 base pairs), plus fragments of the mitochondrial 12S gene and the nuclear 28S rDNA multi-copy gene from a well preserved Myotragus subfossil bone. The best resolved phylogenetic trees, obtained with the cytochrome b gene, placed Myotragus in a position basal to the Ovis group. Using the calibration provided by the isolation of Balearic Islands, we calculated that the initial radiation of caprines can be dated at 6.2 ± 0.4 Mya. In addition, alpine and southern chamois, considered until recently the same species, split around 1.6 ± 0.3 Mya, indicating that the two chamois species have been separated much longer than previously thought.


Since there are almost no extant endemic mammals in Mediterranean islands, the sequence of the extinct Balearic endemic Myotragus has been crucial for allowing us to use the Messinian crisis calibration point for dating the caprines phylogenetic tree.