Molecular resolution to a morphological controversy: the case of North American fossil muskoxen Bootherium and Symbos
The musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) is the only surviving member of a group of Pleistocene North American musk ox genera (Praeovibos, Ovibos, Bootherium, Euceratherium, and Soergelia) whose taxonomy is uncertain. The helmeted musk ox (Bootherium bombifrons) and the woodland musk ox (Symbos cavifrons) have been synonymised as male and female forms of a single Nearctic species found from Alaska, in the north, to Texas, in the south. However, this reclassification has not been tested using molecular data, despite the potential to use ancient DNA to examine these late Pleistocene taxa. In the present study, we sequenced mitochondrial genomes from seven subfossil musk ox specimens (originally identified as Bootherium and/or Symbos), allowing us to evaluate the identity of these muskoxen, explore their phylogeography, and estimate the timeline for their evolution. We also used nuclear genomic data to determine the sex of six of our seven samples. Ultimately, our molecular data support the synonymisation of the North American muskoxen Bootherium and Symbos.