Impact of climatic changes in the Late Pleistocene on migrations and extinction of mammals in Europe: four case studies

Mateusz Baca, Adam Nadachowski, Grzegorz Lipecki, Paweł Mackiewicz, Adrian Marciszak, Danijela Popović, Paweł Socha, Krzysztof Stefaniak, Piotr Wojtal


Climate changes that occurred during the Late Pleistocene had profound effects on the distribution of many plant and animal species and influenced the formation of contemporary faunas and floras of Europe. The course and mechanisms of responses of species to past climate changes are now being intensely studied by the use of direct radiocarbon dating and genetic analyses of fossil remains. Here, we review the advances in understanding these processes by the example of four mammal species: woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), cave bear (Ursus spelaeus s.l.), saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) and collared lemmings (Dicrostonyx ssp.). The cases discussed here as well as others show that migrations, range shifts and local extinctions were the main responses to climate changes and that the dynamics of these climate-driven processes were much more profound than was previously thought. Each species reacted in its individual manner, which depended on its biology and adaptation abilities to changing environmental and climatic conditions. The most severe changes in European ecosystems that affected the largest number of species took place around 33–31 ka BP, during the Last Glacial Maximum 22–19 ka BP and the Late Glacial warming 15–13 ka BP


cave bear; woolly mammoth; saiga antelope; collared lemming; ancient DNA; radiocarbon dating; Late Pleistocene; climate

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