Researchers have recently discovered a new bison species, which lived in the Ice Age. They used both genetic information and cave paintings to reach to this conclusion. The discovery helps researchers understand the origin and the evolution of the animal, which can be found today only in protected areas.
The scientists based their study on information from the cave paintings. They explain that there were two different bison species, and the ancient paintings also showed different shapes for the animals. The species correspond to the steppe bison, which is now extinct, and the modern day cattle.
The team of specialists also used fossils and DNA samples. They studied them individually, as well as by comparing them to each other. This is how they found that the European bison has an unusual ancestor, namely the Higgs bison.
The Higgs bison is a hybrid species. It is the result of auroch individuals mating with steppe bison. The auroch species is the ancestor of cattle such as cows nowadays, and it was one of the most aggressive wild animals of their time.
The specialists in charged of the new study admitted being quite surprised by the finding. They explain that the process of hybridization is rather rare with mammals. Moreover, individuals tend to be sterile. In addition to this, bison and cows don’t share many features, so it comes as a surprise indeed that they share the same ancestor.
The species was called Higgs, but experts are not one hundred percent sure about its mystery being unveiled. The animals must have lived one hundred twenty thousand years ago, towards the end of the Ice Age.
The study is also based on cave paintings discovered in Spain and France. Some of them are famous worldwide, such as Grotte de Lascaux and Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, both of them in France.
The current situation of the European bison is quite sad. The species is considered to be extinct for a century now. Human activities such as excessive hunting, paired with habitat loss led to the extinction of the animals. However, there are a few individuals left in captivity. Most of them can be found in small areas in Central-East Europe. Thanks to the environmentalists’ efforts, individuals born and raised in captivity are relocated in the wild.
The new study accounting for the Higgs bison was published in Nature Communications.
Image courtesy of: Wikipedia