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  • Researchers confirm the existence of Eurasian Lynx in the Cantabrian coast 12.000 years ago

    September 10, 2015

    A team of the University of Oviedo takes part in a study that proves, thanks to a DNA analysis, that the enigmatic animal known as the "grey wolf" was actually Eurasian lynx

    DNA samples showed that the ones in the north of Spain correspond to Eurasian Lynx, a species that is still living in Europe and Asia, and that became extinct in our country approximately a century ago.

    We have documentary references of this animal known as "grey wolf", and hunters of the northern part of Spain had been talking about it for centuries. The animal was actually the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx). A study published in the Journal of Zoology, with the collaboration of the University of Oviedo, proves that this aloof animal lived in the Cantabrian Mountains, also in Asturias, between 12.000 and 400 years ago.

    Researchers analyzed remains of eight animals found by speleologists in the northern part of Spain, two of them in Asturias, or animals kept at museums like the Archeological Museum of Cantabria. They also studied eight specimens coming from Denmark and compared all of them with the present and former lynx, from previous studies. How about the results? DNA samples showed that the ones in the north of Spain correspond to Eurasian Lynx, a species that is still living in Europe and Asia, and that became extinct in our country approximately a century ago.

    Two researchers of the University of Oviedo have been part of the team; Carlos Nores, Professor in the Department of Organisms and Systems Biology and researcher of Indurot as well, and Diego Álvarez Lao, member of the Department of Geology. Carlos Nores emphasizes that the most important part of this study is that for the first time, it is proved that both morphologically and molecularly, that popular animal that hunters talked about centuries ago, and that they called "grey wolf", was actually the Eurasian Lynx. "One of the most interesting aspects of this work is that it provides a temporary connection between the paleontological data of the Eurasian Lynx in the Iberian Peninsula, which go from 12.000 to 400 years ago, with other historical data starting in the 14th century until the middle of the 20th century", explains the researcher of Indurot.

    This research work also provides another important aspect. "we have proved that only the Eurasian Lynx lived in the northern area, while the Iberian Lynx was confined in the Mediterranean area of the peninsula once their congeners appeared", added Carlos Nores.

    Asturian scientists provided two of those animals found in Quirós and the Sueve Mountains for the study published in the journal ‘Journal of Zoology'

    Asturias contributed to this study providing remains of two specimens found in Quirós and in the Sueve Mountains. This research allowed experts to date the age of both animals. The one in Quirós died 1.751 years ago and the one in Sueve 4.707 years ago. "They are much older than what we thought at first considering their bones", highlights the Asturian researcher.

    The specimen of Pozu'l Lince (Sueve Mountains) was found in a 30 meter well in 1989 and it was presented in a conference of the Spanish Society for the Conservation and Study of Mammals (SECEM) in 1999. The specimen of the Cinchos Cave (Quirós) was found in 2010 in an abyss that was 50 meters deep located in the Parque Natural de las Ubiñas La Mesa, in which human remains were found as well. The complete skeleton of this lynx was collected in September 2012, and was taken to the Museum of Geology of the University of Oviedo. The human remains belonged to a child that lived in the Bronze Age.

    Beyond establishing the age, Nores highlights another relevant conclusion. That is, the genetic studies carried out by the research team confirm that the Eurasian Lynx was the last predator to arrive to the peninsula, approximately 12.000 years ago, and also the first one to become extinct. Why? The researcher of the University of Oviedo gives three reasons. The first reason is human persecution. The Eurasian lynx, larger than the boreal lynx, usually killed small livestock. The second reason is deforestation. And the third one the lack of preys, due to the strong decrease of hares and roe deers at the end of last century.

    The work published this week in the Journal of Zoology is signed by researchers of the UCM-ISCIII Mixed Center, and we may find people like Juan Luis Arsuaga, co-director of Atapuerca and Prince of Asturias Award. The Atapuerca team of experts got in contact with University of Oviedo because they knew about the works published by Carlos Nores concerning the discovery of a specimen of Eurasian lynx in Asturias. The Asturian researchers had the collaboration of the Federation of Speleology of the Principality of Asturias and the General Director of Natural Resources of the Regional Ministry for Rural Development and Natural Resources.

    Paper

    Ancient DNA reveals past existence of Eurasian lynx in Spain

    Authors

    R. Rodríguez-Varela y N. García (Centro Mixto, Universidad Complutense de Madrid–Instituto de Salud Carlos III de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos)

    C. Nores y D. Álvarez Lao (Indurot y Departamento de Geología, Universidad de Oviedo)

    R. Barnett (Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark)

    J. L. Arsuaga (Centro Mixto, Universidad Complutense de Madrid–Instituto de Salud Carlos III de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos)

    C. Valdiosera (Centro Mixto, Universidad Complutense de Madrid–Instituto de Salud Carlos III de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos y Department of Archaeology, Environment and Community Planning Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia)

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