Behavioural ecology of Late Pleistocene bears (Ursus spelaeus, Ursus ingressus): Insight from stable isotopes (C, N, O) and tooth microwear


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January 2014


Several types of bears lived in Europe during the Late Pleistocene. Some of them, such as cave bears (Ursus s. spelaeus and Ursus ingressus), did not survive after about 25,000 years ago, while others are still extant, such as brown bear (Ursus arctos). Our article aims at a better understanding of the palaeoecology of these large “carnivores” and focuses on two regions, the Ach valley in the Swabian Jura (SW-Germany) with Geißenklösterle and Hohle Fels, and the Totes Gebirge (Austria) with Ramesch and Gamssulzen caves. Both regions revealed two genetically distinct cave bear lineages, and previous studies suggest behavioural differences for the respective bears in these two regions. In the Ach valley, irrespective of the cave site, U. s. spelaeus was replaced by U. ingressus around 28 ka uncal BP with limited chronological overlap without recognizable dietary changes as documented by the isotopic composition (13C, 15N) of the bones. Furthermore, the present study shows that the dental microwear pattern was similar for all bears in both caves, however with a larger variability in Geißenklösterle than in Hohle Fels. In contrast, the two Austrian caves, Gamssulzen (U. ingressus) and Ramesch (Ursus s. eremus), show considerable differences in both palaeodietary indicators, i.e., stable isotopes, and dental microwear, over at least 15,000 years. The oxygen and carbon analysis of the tooth enamel combined with the dental microwear of the same molars provide an extremely diversified picture of the feeding behaviour of these fossil bears. The already known differences between these two study areas are confirmed and refined using the new approaches. Moreover, the differences between the two cave bear lineages in the Totes Gebirge became even larger. Some niche partitioning between both types of cave bears was supported by the present study but it does not seem to be triggered by climate. This multi-disciplinary approach gives new insights into the palaeobiology of extinct bears.

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