An evolutionarily distinct ringed seal in the Ilulissat Icefjord

Aqqalu Rosing-Asvid, Ari Löytynoja, Paolo Momigliano, Rikke Guldborg Hansen, Camilla Hjorth Scharff-Olsen, Mia Valtonen, Juhana Kammonen, Rune Dietz, Frank Farsø Rigét, Steve H. Ferguson, Christian Lydersen, Kit M. Kovacs, David M. Holland, Jukka Jernvall, Petri Auvinen, Morten Tange Olsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Earth's polar regions are low rates of inter- and intraspecific diversification. An extreme mammalian example is the Arctic ringed seal (Pusa hispida hispida), which is assumed to be panmictic across its circumpolar Arctic range. Yet, local Inuit communities in Greenland and Canada recognize several regional variants; a finding supported by scientific studies of body size variation. It is however unclear whether this phenotypic variation reflects plasticity, morphs or distinct ecotypes. Here, we combine genomic, biologging and survey data, to document the existence of a unique ringed seal ecotype in the Ilulissat Icefjord (locally ‘Kangia’), Greenland; a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is home to the most productive marine-terminating glacier in the Arctic. Genomic analyses reveal a divergence of Kangia ringed seals from other Arctic ringed seals about 240 kya, followed by secondary contact since the Last Glacial Maximum. Despite ongoing gene flow, multiple genomic regions appear under strong selection in Kangia ringed seals, including candidate genes associated with pelage coloration, growth and osmoregulation, potentially explaining the Kangia seal's phenotypic and behavioural uniqueness. The description of ‘hidden’ diversity and adaptations in yet another Arctic species merits a reassessment of the evolutionary processes that have shaped Arctic diversity and the traditional view of this region as an evolutionary freezer. Our study highlights the value of indigenous knowledge in guiding science and calls for efforts to identify distinct populations or ecotypes to understand how these might respond differently to environmental change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5932-5943
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • arctic
  • diversity
  • indigenous knowledge
  • local adaptation
  • marine mammal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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