Cave lions forever separated from their brethren half a million years ago

A large team of geneticists from different countries specified data on the evolution of lions (Panthera leo), reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. According to scientists, cave lions (Panthera leo spaelea) separated from other subspecies of the lion, about 500,000 years ago and since then never had crossed. And two groups of modern populations of lions — Asia-North African and subsahara — sold 70 000 years ago. However, for a number of reasons for the revival of the species in North Africa, not advisable to use Indian lions that are in the first group and the West African animals that belong to the second.

Only a few tens of thousand years ago the lion was to be found almost on every continent. In addition to the living African and Indian populations (Panthera leo leo), there were other subtypes such as large cave lions (Panthera leo spaelea) in Eurasia and in the Yukon and American lions (Panthera leo atrox) in North America South of the Yukon. However 14-10 thousand years ago they were extinct. But even in the XIX century the range of “normal” lions in Eurasia were much wider than now, and included at least the territory of modern Turkey, Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. Over the last 150 years, lions are extinct in North Africa and the middle East. Disappeared and the Cape lion (Panthera leo melanochaitus), and when Alfred Brehm wrote his “Life of animals”, it still existed.

Researchers from several dozen countries, including, carried out an extensive study of nuclear and mitochondrial genomes of existing and extinct subspecies of lions — including to understand how you can revive some of them. The analysis included data on two genomes cave lions, twelve genomes of extinct animal populations, six genomes of modern African and two Indian representatives of the species. Scientists have determined when you were the last common ancestors of the owner of that genetic material, and calculated whether there was an exchange of genes between populations of lions from different regions.

One of the main goals of this work was to find out when cave lions were separated from the ancestors of modern subspecies. In some previous works, the remoteness of this event is estimated in 500-600 thousand years: this is the age of the oldest finds of cave lions in Europe, and in addition, data supported by analysis of mitochondrial DNA. In other studies, its age is increased to 1.89 million years. To see which figure is closer to reality, the authors used three independent Dating method.

It turned out that cave lions were an independent subspecies 500,000 years ago and since then hardly interbred with other subspecies in the mitochondrial DNA of the modern Lviv has no traces of Panthera leo spaelea. This is unusual given that in General the big cats is quite easy to form even interspecific hybrids — though most often in captivity. Probably the cave lion had some behavioral characteristics (e.g. different structure of the pride), which did not allow him to successfully mate with other subspecies.

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