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J Gretzinger, M Molak, E Reiter, S Pfrengle, C Urban, J Neukamm, M Blant, NJ Conard, C Cupillard, V Dimitrijević, DG Drucker, E Hofman-Kamińska, R Kowalczyk, MT Krajcarz, M Krajcarz, SC Münzel, M Peresani, M Romandini, I Rufí, J Soler, G Terlato, J Krause, H Bocherens and VJ Schuenemann
The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) is one of the Late Pleistocene megafauna species that faced extinction at the end of the last ice age. Although it is represented by one of the largest fossil records in Europe and has been subject to several interdisciplinary studies including palaeogenetic research, its fate remains highly controversial. Here, we used a combination of hybridisation capture and next generation sequencing to reconstruct 59 new complete cave bear mitochondrial genomes (mtDNA) from 14 sites in Western, Central and Eastern Europe. In a Bayesian phylogenetic analysis, we compared them to 64 published cave bear mtDNA sequences to reconstruct the population dynamics and phylogeography during the Late Pleistocene. We found five major mitochondrial DNA lineages resulting in a noticeably more complex biogeography of the European lineages during the last 50,000 years than previously assumed. Furthermore, our calculated effective female population sizes suggest a drastic cave bear population decline starting around 40,000 years ago at the onset of the Aurignacian, coinciding with the spread of anatomically modern humans in Europe. Thus, our study supports a potential significant human role in the general extinction and local extirpation of the European cave bear and illuminates the fate of this megafauna species.
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