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Arctic Ark

Date: 15.01.2016 Author: Anne Kettunen Category: Farm Animals

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, that of Northern Finncattle, Yakutian cattle, Mezen horse and Yakutian horse).


Photo taken by Florian Stammler.

The Arctic Ark -project (Arctic Ark. Human-animal adaptations to the Arctic environment: natural and folk selection practices (Arc-Ark)) studies animals’ adaptation to the Arctic as a complex human-environmental process. The project is a consortium work between researchers from genetics, biology and animal breeding at Natural Resources Institute Finland ( Luke ), Jokioinen, Finland, and the anthropology team of the Arctic Centre of University of Lapland, Rovaniemi. The Project Arctic Ark is funded by the Academy of Finland’s Arctic Academy Programme (ARKTIKO, 2014–2018).

Photo taken by Anu Osva.

Old traditions of “folk selection” rather than criteria defined by breeding organisations or other institutions have been 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.

The Arctic Ark investigates how indigenous and non-indigenous societies raise reindeer, cattle and horse breeds in Finnish Lapland, Archangelsk and Eveno-Bytantaj region in Sakha (Yakutia) in Russia. Methods used in genetics, ecology and anthropology will be applied. Animal genomics analyses focuses on animals’ metabolic adaptation, and structural and functional genome variations. Modern genomic approaches are used for the analyses: whole-genome sequencing of animals and gene expression analyses of host animals and their rumen microbiota. In the social-anthropological studies farmers’ understanding of the environment and desired animal characteristics that facilitate a sustainable Arctic livelihood are compared across regions. The data of these two disciplines are integrated through approaches of ecological anthropology. The close association between animals and humans over many centuries in the Arctic allows identification of 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.

Photo taken by Florian Stammler.

PI of the Consortium: Juha Kantanen, PhD, Professor, Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), Myllytie 1, 31600 Jokioinen, Finland

PIs of the subprojects:

1) Genomics: Juha Kantanen

2) Social science: Florian Stammler, PhD, Professor, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, P.O. Box 122, 96101 Rovaniemi, Finland

More information of the project.