Arctic Ark: new project on animal breeds, species and human practices in the Arctic

We are very happy to announce that we started working on a new project funded within the Finnish Academy’s Arctic programme, called

Eveny reindeer, courtesy of Narya Starostina, Eveno-Bytantay, Yakutia

Eveny reindeer, courtesy of Narya Starostina, Eveno-Bytantay, Yakutia

Arctic Ark. Human-animal adaptations to the Arctic environment: natural and folk selection practices (Arc-Ark)

The Arctic is often seen as a biodiversity-poor region, where animal husbandry is solely based on herding of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). However, in northern Europe and Siberia, also breeding of special autochthonous cattle (Bos taurus) and horse (Equus caballus) breeds has a long tradition (for example, Northern Finncattle, Yakutian cattle, Mezen horse and Yakutian horse).

The Arctic Ark project studies animals’ adaptation to the Arctic as a complex human-environmental process. Old traditions of ‘folk selection’, rather than those implemented by institutions have been

The unique Sakha cow, still being actively used, here by Nadezhda Ammossova in Sakkyryr

The unique Sakha cow, still being actively used, here by Nadezhda Ammossova in Sakkyryr

shaping Arctic animals’ valuable traits. Each of the ethnic groups studied in this project (Finns, Sámi, Nenets, Pomors, Russians, Sakha, Eveny) have myths and legends connected to orally transmitted narratives of domestication and selection of their animals. This kind of cultural adaptation assistance is mostly due to symbiotic domesticity, an intimate human-animal partnership. As a result of natural and folk selection, reindeer and Arctic cattle and horse breeds show metabolic, morphological and reproductive adjustments.

We investigate how indigenous and non-indigenous societies raise reindeer, cattle and horse breeds in Finnish Lapland, Archangelsk and Eveno-Bytantaj in Russia. The methods come from genetics, ecology and anthropology disciplines. In the animal genomics analyses we focus on animals’ metabolic adaptation and structural and functional genome variations. We use modern genomic approaches for the analyses: whole-genome sequencing of animals and gene expression analyses of host animals and their rumen microbiota. In the social-anthropological studies we compare

The Sakha horse is able to feed itself from under the snow at temperatures of minus 50 degrees

The Sakha horse is able to feed itself from under the snow at temperatures of minus 50 degrees

across regions husbanders’ knowledge of the environment and desired animal characteristics that facilitate a sustainable Arctic livelihood. The data of these two disciplines shall be integrated through approaches of ecological anthropology. The close association between animals and humans over many centuries in the Arctic allows us to identify the human and nature footprints in animal adaptations as well as the importance of different animal species for the resilience of Arctic cultures and economies.

The project is a consortium work between our colleagues from genetics and biology at the Finnish natural resources institute (LUKE), and the anthropology team of the Arctic Centre. We thank our reviewers wholeheartedly for their positive evaluation, and the Finnish Academy for subsequent positive funding decision! People working in this project will post here their updates under the category “Arctic Ark: Human-animal relations”. As soon as we have it, we will announce here also the permanent project website. Watch this space!

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