Early cave art and ancient DNA record the origin of European bison

Julien Soubrier, Graham Gower, Kefei Chen, Stephen Richards, Bastien Llamas, Kieren Mitchell, Simon Ho, Pavel Kosintsev, Michael Lee, Gennady Baryshnikov, Ruth Bollongino, Pere Bover, Joachim Burger, David Chivall, Evelyne Cregut-Bonnoure, Jared Decker, Vladimir Doronichev, Katerina Douka, Damien Fordham, Federica FontanaCarole Fritz, Jan Glimmerveen, Liubov Golovanova, Colin Groves, Antonio Guerreschi, Wolfgang Haak, Tom Higham, Emilia Hofman-Kaminska, Alexander Immel, Marie-Anne Julien, Johannes Krause, Oleksandra Krotova, Frauke Langbein, Greger Larson, Adam Rohrlach, Amelie Scheu, Robert Schnabel, Jeremy Taylor, Malgorzata Tokarska, Gilles Tosello, Johannes van der Plicht, Ayla van Loenen, Jean-Denis Vigne, Oliver Wooley, Ludovic Orlando, Rafal Kowalczyk, Beth Shapiro, Alan Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


The two living species of bison (European and American) are among the few terrestrial megafauna to have survived the late Pleistocene extinctions. Despite the extensive bovid fossil record in Eurasia, the evolutionary history of the European bison (or wisent, Bison bonasus) before the Holocene (<11.7 thousand years ago (kya)) remains a mystery. We use complete ancient mitochondrial genomes and genome-wide nuclear DNA surveys to reveal that the wisent is the product of hybridization between the extinct steppe bison (Bison priscus) and ancestors of modern cattle (aurochs, Bos primigenius) before 120 kya, and contains up to 10% aurochs genomic ancestry. Although undetected within the fossil record, ancestors of the wisent have alternated ecological dominance with steppe bison in association with major environmental shifts since at least 55 kya. Early cave artists recorded distinct morphological forms consistent with these replacement events, around the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM ∼1/421-18 kya).

Original languageEnglish
Article number13158
Number of pages7
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2016


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