What can we learn from vanishing wildlife species: the case of the Pyrenean Ibex

The sad history of the Pyrenean Ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) is a powerful example of species loss due to causes related to human activity. DNA analyses of Pyrenean Ibex found evidence that, after a demographic expansion about 20,000 years ago, its population went through a bottleneck caused by hunting, inbreeding and other factors, which ultimately caused its extinction. Their research is published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

Only the French mountaineer and photographer Bernhard Clos managed to take a series of good photos of the Bucardo, as the Pyrenean Ibex is called on the Spanish side. Photo: Bernhard Clos

Likely the first extinction event of the 2000s in Europe, the sad history of the Pyrenean Ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) is a powerful example of the ever-increasing species loss worldwide due to causes related to human activity. It can, however, give us valuable information on what should be done (or avoided) to halt this extinction vortex.

The distribution of this subspecies of Iberian Ibex was limited to the French and Spanish Pyrenees. Its first mention in an official written document, dating back to 1767, already refers to it as extremely rare. Like many other mountain goats, it was almost hunted to extinction before its killing became prohibited in 1913. Neither the institution of a national park (Ordesa & Monte Perdido), nor a conservation project with European LIFE program funding could stop the extinction of the Pyrenean Ibex eventually officialised on January 6, 2000. But the story of this charismatic animal did not end there – a controversial cloning program was started instantly with no scientific agreement, nor support from regional environmental NGOs, claiming that de-extinction was possible even in the absence of further DNA studies.

Laña, the last surviving Pyrenean Ibex, returned as a mounted animal to Torla-Ordesa on the 6th November 2012 after its controversial cloning attempt. Her skin is now exhibited in the visitors centre of Ordesa & Monte Perdido National Park. Photo: Manolo Grasa

To find out more about the drivers of its extinction, an international team composed of 7 nationalities built a database of all known museum specimens and reconstructed the demographic history of the Pyrenean Ibex based on DNA evidence. Their research is published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

The research found that after a population expansion between 14,000 and 29,000 years ago (which is quite recent from a genetic point of view), a significant loss of genetic diversity followed between approximately 15,000 and 7,500 years BP, and continued until present. By that time, the Pyrenean Ibex also lived outside the Pyrenean mountain chain, but, gradually, its distribution was reduced to only one valley in the Ordesa National Park in the Spanish Pyrenees.

The adventures of the British hunter E.N. Buxton were published in 1893. This engraving represents a hunting party in the Ordesa Valley (Spanish Pyrenees).

Written sources confirm hunting of the Pyrenean Ibex from as early as the 14th century, and during the 19th and 20th century it became a common target for trophy hunters. Undoubtedly, hunting played an important role in reducing its population numbers and distribution area, but it is not possible – with the information currently available – to pinpoint it as the straw that broke the camel’s back. Infectious diseases that originate from livestock (for instance, those caused by the bluetongue virus, BTV, and sarcopses) are capable of decimating other subspecies of Iberian Ibex in extremely short periods of time.

While the relative contribution of various factors remains largely unknown, it seems that hunting and diseases transmitted from other animals have been effective in drastically reducing the number of Pyrenean ibexes over the last two centuries, because they were acting on an already genetically weakened population. This low genetic diversity, combined with inbreeding depression and reduced fertility, brought the population beyond the minimum viable size – from that point onwards, extinction was inevitable.

This case study shows the importance of historical biological collections for genetic analyses of extinct species. A privately owned 140-year-old trophy preserved in Pau, France, was genotyped as part of this research, showing that private individuals may possess material of high value. As there is little knowledge of such resources, the authors call for the creation of an online public database of private collections hosting biological material for the benefit of biodiversity studies. 


Original source:
Forcina G, Woutersen K, Sánchez-Ramírez S, Angelone S, Crampe JP, Pérez JM, Fandos P, Granados JE, Jowers MJ (2021) Demography reveals populational expansion of a recently extinct Iberian ungulate. Zoosystematics and Evolution 97(1): 211-221. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.97.61854

What comes after COVID-19? Special issue in the journal Population and Economics

At this alarming time, when the COVID-19 pandemic is on everyone’s mind, a new special issue in the open-access peer-reviewed journal Population and Economics provides a platform for discussion on the impact of the pandemic on the population and economics, both in Russia and worldwide. Economists, demographers and sociologists are invited to submit research on the impact of the pandemic to the special issue, which is open for submissions until the end of June 2020.

At this alarming time, when the COVID-19 pandemic is on everyone’s mind, a new special issue in the open-access peer-reviewed journal Population and Economics by Lomonosov Moscow State University (Faculty of Economics) provides a platform for discussion on the impact of the pandemic on the population and economics, both in Russia and worldwide by opening a special issue. An introductory overview of the issue is provided by its Editor-in-Chief, Irina E. Kalabikhina of the Faculty of Economics at Lomonosov Moscow University.

Today is still too early to draw any final conclusions, with too many things yet to happen. Nevertheless, the time is right to start a discussion on how to soften the possible consequences of the pandemic. 

In the first published papers, brought together in the special issue, various teams of economists assess the uneasy dilemma – saving lives now or saving the economy to preserve lives in the future; demographers draw parallels with previous pandemics and its impact on demographic development; and sociologists analyse the state of various strata throughout the crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic came to Russia in mid-March – two months after China, two weeks after Spain, Italy, France, and about the same time as the United States.

As of 24th April, according to the data available at the Center for System Science and Engineering at John Hopkins University, Russia is amongst the top 10 countries by number of recorded cases. International comparability of national data on COVID-19 is a separate issue; it will be addressed in one of the special issue articles.

“Now I just want to state that Russia is affected by the pandemic, and it disturbs population and society. Moreover, a number of anti-epidemic measures taken in the country can bite the economy. In this context, the search for specific Russian consequences of the pandemic initiated by our authors along with the global consequences are particularly interesting”,

shares Editor-in-Chief of Population and Economics, Prof. Irina E. Kalabikhina.

All economists, demographers and sociologists are invited to consider the impact of the pandemic and its attendant recession on the population and economy in Russia and the global world. Research papers are welcome to the special issue, which will remain open for submissions until the end of June 2020.

Special issue already includes contributions from top economists, sociologists, demographers from  Lomonosov Moscow State UniversityHigher School of Economics (Moscow), Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), Global Migration Policy Associates (Geneva), University of Chicago, Federal Research Institute for Health Organization and Informatics of Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation; Institute of Socio-Political Research at the Federal Center of Theoretical and Applied Sociology of the Russian Academy of Science, the New School for Social Research (New York) and Feminist Data and Research Inc. (Toronto), University of Manchester and New Economic School (Moscow).

Different aspects of the current pandemic are considered in a series of research: cost of the pandemic to globalisation,proposals of tax system revision and reforms, future technological shift and a change in the direction and volumes of trade flows.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is “a global social drama”, after which income and wealth inequalities are expected to increase, and it’s still a good question how reliable are the data on the virus we are receiving and what could be theperception of the mass public and voters. While citizens are getting used to the existing rules, both the population and the state are in uncertainty, and lacking the flexible informal rules, which normally determine human behaviour.

Many countries face the issues of unemployment, caused by the virus outburst, and in many countries young people and those of low education level, as well as migrants and refugees are the most vulnerable groups.

Russian families face new issues in the conditions of self-isolation, while “dachas” (countryside family houses) play an important role during the pandemic.

On one hand, the current reduction in production makes a positive impact on the environment, but in the upcoming years it can get replaced by the negative effect – as weakened attention to environmental issues and redirection of cash flows to maintain or prevent a significant drop in the material standard of living.

Scientists try to consider the lessons of the previous pandemics, based on the cases of the Spanish flu of 1918 and the latest Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

These and many other topics are considered by researchers in the COVID-19 issue, and it is already quite obvious that even though the pandemic may have touched every side of our lives, life doesn’t stop. These early research works are meant to help humanity to overcome the following crisis, find the way out and adjust to the life after the pandemic.

“We are going through difficult times, and it is hardly possible to overestimate the role of science in the quickest passing through the crisis with the least human and economic losses. We hope that our Journal will contribute to the crucially important discussion on the impact of the pandemic on the economy and population”,

concludes Editor-in-Chief of Population and Economics, Irina E. Kalabikhina.

Additional information

About Population and Economics

Population and Economics is a peer-reviewed, open access journal, published by Lomonosov Moscow State University (Faculty of Economics). The journal covers basic and applied aspects of the relationship between population and economics in a broad sense. 

The journal is running on the innovative scholarly publishing platform ARPHA, developed by scholarly publisher and technology provider Pensoft

Original sources:

Kalabikhina IE (2020) What after? Essays on the expected consequences of the COVID-19 pandemics on the global and Russian economics and population. Population and Economics 4(2): 1-3. https://doi.org/10.3897/popecon.4.e53337

Auzan AA (2020) The economy under the pandemic and afterwards. Population and Economics 4(2): 4-12. https://doi.org/10.3897/popecon.4.e53403

Buklemishev OV (2020) Coronavirus crisis and its effects on the economy. Population and Economics 4(2): 13-17. https://doi.org/10.3897/popecon.4.e53295

Grigoryev LM (2020) Global social drama of pandemic and recession. Population and Economics 4(2): 18-25. https://doi.org/10.3897/popecon.4.e53325

Kartseva MA, Kuznetsova PO (2020) The economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic: which groups will suffer more in terms of loss of employment and income? Population and Economics 4(2): 26-33. https://doi.org/10.3897/popecon.4.e53194

Shastitko AE (2020) COVID-19: moments of truth and sources of controversy. Population and Economics 4(2): 34-38. https://doi.org/10.3897/popecon.4.e53285

Kurdin AA (2020) Institutional continuum in the context of the pandemic. Population and Economics 4(2): 39-42. https://doi.org/10.3897/popecon.4.e53299

Ivakhnyuk I (2020) Coronavirus pandemic challenges migrants worldwide and in Russia. Population and Economics 4(2): 49-55. https://doi.org/10.3897/popecon.4.e53201

Bobylev SN (2020) Environmental consequences of COVID-19 on the global and Russian economics. Population and Economics 4(2): 43-48. https://doi.org/10.3897/popecon.4.e53279


Prof. Irina E. Kalabikhina
Editor-in-Chief of the “Population and Economics”
Email: niec@econ.msu.ru