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Concept: Megafauna of Eurasia


Following the 1986 Chernobyl accident, 116,000 people were permanently evacuated from the 4,200 km(2) Chernobyl exclusion zone [1]. There is continuing scientific and public debate surrounding the fate of wildlife that remained in the abandoned area. Several previous studies of the Chernobyl exclusion zone (e.g. [2,3]) indicated major radiation effects and pronounced reductions in wildlife populations at dose rates well below those thought [4,5] to cause significant impacts. In contrast, our long-term empirical data showed no evidence of a negative influence of radiation on mammal abundance. Relative abundances of elk, roe deer, red deer and wild boar within the Chernobyl exclusion zone are similar to those in four (uncontaminated) nature reserves in the region and wolf abundance is more than 7 times higher. Additionally, our earlier helicopter survey data show rising trends in elk, roe deer and wild boar abundances from one to ten years post-accident. These results demonstrate for the first time that, regardless of potential radiation effects on individual animals, the Chernobyl exclusion zone supports an abundant mammal community after nearly three decades of chronic radiation exposures.

Concepts: Chernobyl disaster, Deer, Zone of alienation, Abundance, Abundance of the chemical elements, Wildlife, Megafauna of Eurasia, Venison


The two living species of bison (European and American) are among the few terrestrial megafauna to have survived the late Pleistocene extinctions. Despite the extensive bovid fossil record in Eurasia, the evolutionary history of the European bison (or wisent, Bison bonasus) before the Holocene (<11.7 thousand years ago (kya)) remains a mystery. We use complete ancient mitochondrial genomes and genome-wide nuclear DNA surveys to reveal that the wisent is the product of hybridization between the extinct steppe bison (Bison priscus) and ancestors of modern cattle (aurochs, Bos primigenius) before 120 kya, and contains up to 10% aurochs genomic ancestry. Although undetected within the fossil record, ancestors of the wisent have alternated ecological dominance with steppe bison in association with major environmental shifts since at least 55 kya. Early cave artists recorded distinct morphological forms consistent with these replacement events, around the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, ∼21-18 kya).

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Pleistocene, Bison, Megafauna of Eurasia, Aurochs, Wisent, Steppe Wisent


The Bali (Panthera tigris balica) and Javan (P. t. sondaica) tigers are recognized as distinct tiger subspecies that went extinct in the 1940s and 1980s, respectively. Yet their genetic ancestry and taxonomic status remain controversial. Following ancient DNA procedures, we generated concatenated 1750bp mtDNA sequences from 23 museum samples including 11 voucher specimens from Java and Bali and compared these to diagnostic mtDNA sequences from 122 specimens of living tiger subspecies and the extinct Caspian tiger. The results revealed a close genetic affinity of the 3 groups from the Sunda Islands (Bali, Javan, and Sumatran tigers P. t. sumatrae). Bali and Javan mtDNA haplotypes differ from Sumatran haplotypes by 1-2 nucleotides, and the 3 island populations define a monophyletic assemblage distinctive and equidistant from other mainland subspecies. Despite this close phylogenetic relationship, no mtDNA haplotype was shared between Sumatran and Javan/Bali tigers, indicating litter or no matrilineal gene flow among the islands after they were colonized. The close phylogenetic relationship among Sunda tiger subspecies suggests either recent colonization across the islands, or else a once continuous tiger population that had subsequently isolated into different island subspecies. This supports the hypothesis that the Sumatran tiger is the closest living relative to the extinct Javan and Bali tigers.

Concepts: Megafauna of Eurasia, Tiger, Panthera, Sumatra, Tigers, Sumatran Tiger, Javan Tiger, Bali Tiger


A substantial period of life after reproduction ends, known as postreproductive lifespan (PRLS), is at odds with classical life history theory and its causes and mechanisms have puzzled evolutionary biologists for decades. Prolonged PRLS has been confirmed in only two non-human mammals, both odontocete cetaceans in the family Delphinidae. We investigate the evidence for PRLS in a third species, the false killer whale, Pseudorca crassidens, using a quantitative measure of PRLS and morphological evidence from reproductive tissues.

Concepts: Human, Life, Mammal, Cetacea, Whale, Megafauna of Eurasia, Beached whale, Oceanic dolphins


Despite decades of research, the roles of climate and humans in driving the dramatic extinctions of large-bodied mammals during the Late Quaternary period remain contentious. Here we use ancient DNA, species distribution models and the human fossil record to elucidate how climate and humans shaped the demographic history of woolly rhinoceros, woolly mammoth, wild horse, reindeer, bison and musk ox. We show that climate has been a major driver of population change over the past 50,000 years. However, each species responds differently to the effects of climatic shifts, habitat redistribution and human encroachment. Although climate change alone can explain the extinction of some species, such as Eurasian musk ox and woolly rhinoceros, a combination of climatic and anthropogenic effects appears to be responsible for the extinction of others, including Eurasian steppe bison and wild horse. We find no genetic signature or any distinctive range dynamics distinguishing extinct from surviving species, emphasizing the challenges associated with predicting future responses of extant mammals to climate and human-mediated habitat change.

Concepts: Evolution, Climate change, Horse, Extinction, Pleistocene, Dinosaur, Megafauna, Megafauna of Eurasia


Injury and death from wildlife attacks often result in people feeling violent resentment and hostility against the wildlife involved and, therefore, may undermine public support for conservation. Although Nepal, with rich biodiversity, is doing well in its conservation efforts, human-wildlife conflicts have been a major challenge in recent years. The lack of detailed information on the spatial and temporal patterns of human-wildlife conflicts at the national level impedes the development of effective conflict mitigation plans. We examined patterns of human injury and death caused by large mammals using data from attack events and their spatiotemporal dimensions collected from a national survey of data available in Nepal over five years (2010-2014). Data were analyzed using logistic regression and chi-square or Fisher’s exact tests. The results show that Asiatic elephants and common leopards are most commonly involved in attacks on people in terms of attack frequency and fatalities. Although one-horned rhinoceros and bears had a higher frequency of attacks than Bengal tigers, tigers caused more fatalities than each of these two species. Attacks by elephants peaked in winter and most frequently occurred outside protected areas in human settlements. Leopard attacks occurred almost entirely outside protected areas, and a significantly greater number of attacks occurred in human settlements. Attacks by one-horned rhinoceros and tigers were higher in the winter, mainly in forests inside protected areas; similarly, attacks by bears occurred mostly within protected areas. We found that human settlements are increasingly becoming conflict hotspots, with burgeoning incidents involving elephants and leopards. We conclude that species-specific conservation strategies are urgently needed, particularly for leopards and elephants. The implications of our findings for minimizing conflicts and conserving these imperiled species are discussed.

Concepts: Species, Mammal, Lion, Fisher's exact test, Rhinoceros, Megafauna of Eurasia, Leopard, Tiger


In 1965, Ciur-Izbuc Cave in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania was discovered to contain about 400 ancient human footprints. At that time, researchers interpreted the footprints to be those of a man, woman and child who entered the cave by an opening which is now blocked but which was usable in antiquity. The age of the prints (≈10-15 ka BP) was based partly on their association with cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) footprints and bones, and the belief that cave bears became extinct near the end of the last ice age. Since their discovery, the human and bear evidence and the cave itself have attracted spelunkers and other tourists, with the result that the ancient footprints are in danger of destruction by modern humans. In an effort to conserve the footprints and information about them and to reanalyze them with modern techiques, Ciur-Izbuc Cave was restudied in summer of 2012. Modern results are based on fewer than 25% of the originally described human footprints, the rest having been destroyed. It is impossible to confirm some of the original conclusions. The footprints do not cluster about three different sizes, and the number of individuals is estimated to be six or seven. Two cases of bears apparently overprinting humans help establish antiquity, and C-14 dates suggest a much greater age than originally thought. Unfortunately, insufficient footprints remain to measure movement variables such as stride length. However, detailed three-dimensional mapping of the footprints does allow a more precise description of human movements within the cave. Am J Phys Anthropol 155:128-135, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Human, Science, Thought, Pleistocene, Brown Bear, Megafauna of Eurasia, Bears, Cave bear


As drivers of terrestrial ecosystems, humans have replaced large carnivores in most areas, and human influence not only exerts striking ecological pressures on biodiversity at local scales but also has indirect effects in distant corners of the world. We suggest that the multibillion dollar cashmere industry creates economic motivations that link western fashion preferences for cashmere to land use in Central Asia. This penchant for stylish clothing, in turn, encourages herders to increase livestock production which affects persistence of over 6 endangered large mammals in these remote, arid ecosystems. We hypothesized that global trade in cashmere has strong negative effects on native large mammals of deserts and grassland where cashmere-producing goats are raised. We used time series data, ecological snapshots of the biomass of native and domestic ungulates, and ecologically and behaviorally based fieldwork to test our hypothesis. In Mongolia increases in domestic goat production were associated with a 3-fold increase in local profits for herders coexisting with endangered saiga (Saiga tatarica).That increasing domestic grazing pressure carries fitness consequences was inferred on the basis of an approximately 4-fold difference in juvenile recruitment among blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur)in trans-Himalayan India. Across 7 study areas in Mongolia, India, and China’s Tibetan Plateau, native ungulate biomass is now <5% that of domestic species. Such trends suggest ecosystem degradation and decreased capacity for the persistence of native species, including at least 8 Asian endemic species: saiga, chiru (Pantholops hodgsoni), Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus), snow leopard(Panthera uncia), khulan(Equus hemionus), kiang (E. kiang), takhi (E. przewalski), and wild yak (Bos mutus). Our results suggest striking yet indirect and unintended actions that link trophic-level effects to markets induced by the trade for cashmere. Globalización del Mercado de Cachemira y la Declinación de Mamíferos Mayores en Asia Central.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Milk, Livestock, Goat, Tibet, Central Asia, Megafauna of Eurasia, Mammals of Asia


Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a human pathogen with zoonotic spread, infecting both domestic and wild animals. About 17% of the Swedish population is immune to HEV, but few cases are reported annually, indicating that most infections are subclinical. However, clinical hepatitis E may also be overlooked. For identified cases, the source of infection is mostly unknown. In order to identify whether HEV may be spread from wild game, the prevalence of markers for past and/or ongoing infection was investigated in sera and stool samples collected from 260 hunted Swedish wild ungulates. HEV markers were found in 43 (17%) of the animals. The most commonly infected animal was moose (Alces alces) with 19 out of 69 animals (28%) showing HEV markers, followed by wild boar (Sus scrofa) with 21 out of 139 animals (15%), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) with 2 out of 30 animals, red deer (Cervus elaphus) with 1 out of 15 animals, and fallow deer (Dama dama) 0 out of 7 animals. Partial open reading frame 1 (ORF1) of the viral genomes from the animals were sequenced and compared with those from 14 endemic human cases. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that three humans were infected with HEV strains similar to those from wild boar. These results indicate that wild animals may be a source of transmission to humans and could be an unrecognized public health concern.

Concepts: Deer, Megafauna of Eurasia, Fauna of Iran


According to the refugee species concept, increasing replacement of open steppe by forest cover after the last glacial period and human pressure had together forced European bison (Bison bonasus)-the largest extant terrestrial mammal of Europe-into forests as a refuge habitat. The consequent decreased fitness and population density led to the gradual extinction of the species. Understanding the pre-refugee ecology of the species may help its conservation management and ensure its long time survival. In view of this, we investigated the abundance of stable isotopes (δ13C and δ15N) in radiocarbon dated skeletal remains of European bison and other large herbivores-aurochs (Bos primigenius), moose (Alces alces), and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)-from the Early Holocene of northern Europe to reconstruct their dietary habits and pattern of habitat use in conditions of low human influence. Carbon and nitrogen isotopic compositions in collagen of the ungulate species in northern central Europe during the Early Holocene showed significant differences in the habitat use and the diet of these herbivores. The values of the δ13C and δ15N isotopes reflected the use of open habitats by bison, with their diet intermediate between that of aurochs (grazer) and of moose (browser). Our results show that, despite the partial overlap in carbon and nitrogen isotopic values of some species, Early Holocene large ungulates avoided competition by selection of different habitats or different food sources within similar environments. Although Early Holocene bison and Late Pleistocene steppe bison utilized open habitats, their diets were significantly different, as reflected by their δ15N values. Additional isotopic analyses show that modern populations of European bison utilize much more forested habitats than Early Holocene bison, which supports the refugee status of the species.

Concepts: Human, Deer, Europe, Norway, Finland, Poland, Megafauna of Eurasia, Wisent