Ancient DNA and the Population Genetics of Cave Bears (Ursus spelaeus) Through Space and Time


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January 2022


The cave bear spread from Western Europe to the Near East during the Riss glaciation (250 KYA) before becoming extinct approximately 12 KYA. During that period, the climatic conditions were highly dynamic, oscillating between glacial and temperate episodes. Such events have constrained the geographic repartition of species, the movements of populations and shaped their genetic diversity. We retrieved and analyzed ancient DNA from 21 samples from five European caves ranging from 40 to 130 KYA. Combined with available data, our data set accounts for a total of 41 sequences of cave bear, coming from 18 European caves. We distinguish four haplogroups at the level of the mitochondrial DNA control region. The large population size of cave bear could account for the maintenance of such polymorphism. Extensive gene flow seems to have connected European populations because two haplogroups cover wide geographic areas. Furthermore, the extensive sampling of the deposits of the Scladina cave located in Belgium allowed us to correlate changes in climatic conditions with the intrapopulational genetic diversity over 90 KY.

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