Isotopic variability of cave bears (δ15N, δ13C) across Europe during MIS 3

Magdalena Krajcarz
Martina Pacher
Maciej T. Krajcarrz

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Collagen, the organic fraction of bone, records the isotopic parameters of consumed food for carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N). This relationship of isotopic signature between diet and tissue is an important tool for the study of dietary preferences of modern and fossil animal species. Since the first information on the isotopic signature of cave bear was reported, numerous data from Europe have become available. The goal of this work is to track the geographical variation of cave bear collagen isotopic values in Europe during Marine Isotopic Stage 3 (about 60,000–25,000 yr BP). In this study the results of new δ13C and δ15N isotopic analyses of cave bear collagen from four Central-Eastern European sites are presented, as well as a review of all published isotopic data for cave bears of the same period. The main conclusion is a lack of geographical East-West pattern in the variations of δ13C and δ15N values of cave bear collagen. Moreover, no relationship was found between cave bear taxonomy and isotopic composition. The cave bears from Central-Eastern Europe exhibit δ13C and δ15N values near the average of the range of Central, Western and Southern European cave bears. Despite the fact that most cave bear sites follow an altitudinal gradient, separate groups of sites exhibit shift in absolute values of δ13C, what disturbs an altitude-related isotopic pattern. The most distinct groups are: high Alpine sites situated over 1500 m a.s.l. – in terms of δ13C; and two Romanian sites Peştera cu Oase and Urşilor – in case of δ15N. Although the cave bear isotopic signature is driven by altitude, the altitudinal adjustment of isotopic data is not enough to explain the isotopic dissimilarity of these cave bears. The unusually high δ15N signature of mentioned Romanian sites is an isolated case in Europe. Cave bears from relatively closely situated Central-Eastern European sites and other Romanian sites are more similar to Western European than to Romanian populations in terms of isotopic composition, and probably ecology.