No visit to Siberia is complete without a sighting of the famous Yakutian horses. These majestic animals seem to mesh flawlessly with the surrounding landscape and history of the region, but they are not actually native to Yakutia. Recently, researchers have discovered that these horses have undergone startlingly fast rates of evolution to reach a point at which they can live and thrive in the harsh conditions of the region. Their story of adaptation is fascinating and could suggest that various other species around the world aren’t as old as they may originally seem.
These horses are incredibly well-prepared for the elements. Temperatures in the Yakutia region can drop extremely low, but the thick, insulating coat of the Yakutian horse can help to keep it toasty even on the frostiest of nights. Incredibly, the latest studies seem to suggest that these horses have only been living in the area for around eight centuries. It normally takes millions of years and countless generations for species to fully adapt to their environments, but these horses seem to have evolved at an alarming pace.
Researchers have discovered that these horses were brought to the area by an itinerant group of people, quite possibly from Mongolia. The research team was led by Dr Ludovic Orlando and he has been shocked by the group’s findings. Orlando claims that the sort of evolution that has been witnessed in these horses would normally be carried out over the course of 100 individual generations. He also said that, had these horses not survived and adapted in the ways they did, the humans who came with them would also have died out.
Interestingly, the team also discovered that an entirely different breed of horse did exist in the Yakutia region over five thousand years ago. The modern day horses have very little in common with that ancient breed, showing how evolution can help animals to survive. Where one breed failed, the other managed to survive by adapting in different ways. To get to the root of this rapid evolution, the team examined the genes of the horses. They discovered that the Yakutian horses actually share certain parts of their genetic code with Siberian humans and certain extinct species like the woolly mammoth. One gene in particular, known as TGM3, is present in various Siberian species and is responsible for rapid hair growth.
While mapping out the genetic code of this species and comparing it to others from the region, the scientists found some truly interesting results. The fact that these horses were able to adapt to a harsh environment in such a short space of time is fascinating, and this study could pave the way for future investigations into other species. The story of the Yakutian horses’ adaptation is an incredible testament to the power of evolution! If a species is able to change so quickly, the power of natural selection may be greater than people may have ever imagined.