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Dentition of cave bears from Scladina cave shows morphological variation chronologically over time.

6 January 2019

A Cave Bear Cranium from Scladina Cave

The supposed herbivorous cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) occupied Europe throughout the Quaternary. Being subject to large spatial variation has led to the intensive study on its geographical polymorphism, generating debates on sub-speciation. However, temporal morphological information on the species is somewhat lacking. Here, we apply geometric morphometrics (GMM) technique to investigate temporal morphological variation in molar size and shape of Ursus spelaeus from different chronostratigraphic sediment units in a geographically confined site (Scladina Cave, Belgium), covering approximately 100,000 years.

Our findings show significant morphological variation between groups analysed in both size and shape. M2 shows a chronological size increase with PCA plots visually expressing differences in all groups, relating to a buccolingual expansion and an increase of the talon masticatory platform through time. Reduction in the M1 is also shown, possibly to maintain biomechanical performance of dentition for effective mastication, more so in groups relating to the latter stages of the Quaternary.

Findings suggest a rapid response to climatic factors constraining consumable food sources, with GMM offering a promising analytical approach in understanding the palaeobiology, palaeoecology and morphological variation in extinct and extant fossil mammals.

Temporal variation in cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) dentition: The stratigraphic sequence of Scladina Cave, Belgium

Daniel Charters, Grégory Abrams, Isabelle De Groot, Kévin Di Modica, Dominique Bonjean, Carlo Meloro

DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2018.12.012