Cave bears became extinct as a result of human activity

Humans killed the cave bears
iStock/benoitb

New research suggest that human activity played a role in the demise of cave bears in Europe. Competition for food and habitat is just part of the reasons why humans drove the cave bear out of existence.

Research undertaken by the University of Zurich, suggests that cave bears became extinct as a result of human activity. The cave bear was a species of bear that lived in Europe and Asia during the Pleistocene and became extinct about 24,000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum.

Studying genetic material from various caves, researchers reconstructed the mitochondrial genome from bone samples that belonged to 59 bears.

The bones were sought from all around Europe, with samples being found in; Poland, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Serbia and Switzerland.

The University of Zurich’s finding suggest that cave bears were ‘pedigree’. With there being just five major DNA lines that were scattered throughout Europe. All five of these DNA lines can be traced back to one single ancestor that lived 451,000 years ago.

Researcher Verena Schünemann from the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, lead the study. Schünemann says: “Our data showed that the distribution of the cave bears during the last ice age was much more complex than previously assumed…The drastic decline in the cave bear population began about 40,000 years ago. This is also the time when modern man spread in Europe and increasingly became a competitor of the bear. Man claimed the same habitat with the caves in certain areas as the bears and chased the animals.”

Schünemann continues: “Archaeological finds prove that the bears were killed and recycled. The cooler climate and the resulting reduced availability of plants as feed have additionally added to the herbivores. For example, the entire bear population may have been fragmented into several subpopulations inhabiting more moderate climates and habitats with abundant crops. Bear hunting and small demarcated populations could have played a crucial role in the extinction of the bears.”

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