Cave bear teeth provide clues to their extinction
Research published in Quaternary Science Reviews on the long extinct cave bear has found they tried to adapt to the growing harshness of the last ice age before their extinction and that they mostly ate plants.
Bioarchaeology MSc graduate Daniel Charters, Dr Carlo Meloro and Dr Isabelle De Groote of LJMU’s Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology along with researchers from the cave site of Scladina, Belgium, set out to investigate how cave bear teeth changed over time and what these changes can tell us about the ecology and environment of different periods throughout the last ice age.
Charters and colleagues studied teeth from cave bears between 150,000 and 40,000 years ago, excavated from sediments of Scladina cave. The different layers in Scladina cave provide a detailed record of different climatic events during this time. By comparing size and shape of teeth between each time period, it was established that cave bear teeth adapt to the availability of food sources as a result of environmental and climatic changes. More precisely, the first and second upper molars (grinding teeth) where smaller when the climate was more temperate, as a result of varying food choices and lush vegetation. However, in more harsh steppe-like environments dominated by ice and tundra, the cave bear’s teeth became larger to produce a greater surface area to grind up harder food types.
Daniel Charters said, “Research into the past is not only fascinating to rewrite what has once happened on our planet, but it is important for us to understand extinct animals so that we can take that information and apply it for the preservation of animals today. Climate has a huge impact on different species, we see this in palaeontology with the mass extinction during the last ice age. Studies into temporal evolution and adaptation could prove invaluable for future conservation.”
Read their paper in Quaternary Science Reviews.