Queen’s University Scientist Helps Uncover Secret of Mass Mortality Event in Remote Steppe Grassland
The sudden death of 200,000 critically endangered saiga antelopes was caused by unusual environmental conditions, it has emerged.
This species invests a lot in reproduction, so that it can persist in such an extreme continental environment where temperatures plummet to below minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter or rise to above 40 Celsius in summer, with food scarce and wolves prowling.
High levels of poaching since the 1990s have also been a major factor in depleting the species, while increasing levels of infrastructure development (from railways, roads and fences) threaten to fragment their habitat and interfere with their migrations. With all these threats, it is possible that another mass die-off from disease could reduce numbers to a level where recovery is no longer possible.
"The research involved a large international team. Although assembled around tragic events, it was encouraging to see that collaboration work so well, and to have Queen’s play an important role in the investigation of a globally important disease event. In future, integrated consideration of environment, conservation and farming should become the standard for disease research.”