By studying the mitochondrial DNA of the species extinct 14,000 years ago, scientists discovered that there were two subspecies, one western and one eastern.
New research at the Centre for Palaeogenetics, Sweden, shows that the cave lion, an animal that became extinct 14,000 years ago, was divided into two subspecies, one western and one eastern. The discovery was published in late July in the journal Scientific Reports.
The scientists studied the mitochondrial DNA of 31 specimens found in earlier archaeological explorations in northern Eurasia and North America. One of the animals studied was “Spartak”, a 28,000-year-old cave lion cub found in Siberia just a few years ago.
The study sheds light on the evolutionary relationship between cave lions and other lion species that live today.
“Our study suggests that the cave lion was indeed a distinct species, separated from the modern lion,” said David Stanton, lead author of the study and a former Marie-Curie Fellow at the Centre for Palaeogenetics. “The analyses also support the theory that the cave lion was divided into an eastern and a western subspecies.”
Evidence suggests that the cave lion diverged from a common ancestor that it shared with modern lions about 1.85 million years ago, and later split into two different subspecies approximately half a million years ago.
“We are now continuing with more genetic analyses, where we aim to sequence complete nuclear genomes from several specimens, in order to investigate what genes made the cave lion a cave lion,” Stanton said.