New study finds traces of extinct ancestor of modern British Sheepdogs in South America

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This week in Research Highlightsour new series of articles highlighting recent notable studies from all PLOS journals, PLOS genetics authors Natasha Barrios of the Universidad Austral de Chile, Chile, Elaine Ostrander of the National Institutes of Health, USA, and their colleagues found that modern Patagonian sheepdogs are the closest living relatives of now extinct varieties of sheepdogs from Victorian Britain. . Learn more about the study design and the authors’ findings below or skip ahead to the complete survey on our review site.


In the article, the authors explain that European settlers colonizing new lands often took their working dogs with them, and this common history is reflected in the genome of modern dog breeds. The Patagonian Sheepdog is a distinct variety from southern Chile and Argentina, believed to have been introduced by European settlers in the late 1800s. But it is not recognized as a formal breed and its relationship to modern sheepdogs is poorly understood.

Study design and results

The researchers genotyped 159 Patagonian sheepdogs from Chile and the province of Chubut in Argentina and used published data for 175 recognized domestic dog breeds and two wild dog species to create a phylogenetic tree. They found that Patagonian sheepdogs are most closely related to border collies and Australian kelpies and share a common ancestor with modern UK sheepdog breeds around 150 years ago. They identified distinct populations north and south of Patagonia, separated by the Patagonian Icefields. Northern populations are more genetically similar to border collies, while southern populations are more closely related to the Australian kelpie.


This demographic structure reflects the pattern and timing of European colonization of the region, during which Scottish settlers first migrated from the Falkland Islands to southern Chile in 1877, before later moving north into the Aysén region and Argentina. The first herding dogs were probably introduced to Patagonia before dog breeds were formalized in the late 1800s, suggesting that modern Patagonian sheepdogs are the closest living representatives of the founding herding dog – l ancestor of modern UK herding breeds – and probably look and behave quite the same, say the authors.

The researchers add, “Using a variety of genomic approaches, we are testing the relationship between this dog population and modern herding breeds. We propose that the Patagonian Sheepdog is the closest living representative to the common ancestor of modern British sheepdog breeds. These discoveries, in turn, increase our understanding of human migratory events at the time.

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