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Fossils of extinct hybrid between aurochs and steppe bison found in Urals caves

Both species, according to a scientist, roamed the Earth in the same period of time, but lived in different landscapes

YEKATERINBURG, May 10. /TASS/. Fossil bones of mysterious Bison-X, or a hybrid between aurochs and steppe bison, that roamed the Earth more than 100,000 years ago were found by a team of scientists from Russia, Australia, UK, Denmark, Poland, US, and France in caves in Russia’s Ural Mountains, Pavel Kosintsev, a senior research fellow with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology, said on Wednesday.

"We have been working on the problem of extinction of certain species and the mammoth fauna in general. More than ten years ago, we began cooperation with our foreign colleague on the study of fossil DNA in bones of extinct animals," he told a news conference at TASS’ Urals region information center. "It was believed earlier that only one bison species - extinct steppe bison resembling the contemporary American bison - coexisted with mammoths in Late Pleistocene. But the study of DNA from the bones found in the Urals caves revealed that another bison species inhabited the area along with the steppe bison. It was called Bison-X."

Genetically, Bison-X differs from the steppe bison and is a completely new species. "Both species went extinct but wanted to see where Bison-X had originated from and how the two species were related. We conducted a comparative study of the ancient DNA from fossil bison, the Caucasian and European bison, and domestic cattle. The study revealed that Bison-X is a hybrid between aurochs and steppe bison and that a hybridization event took place some 120,000 years ago," Kosintsev said.

Both species, according to the researcher, roamed the Earth in the same time span but lived in different landscapes.

"They had different eating preferences, so they inhabited different terrains. It was a very interesting and important finding as we used to believe that the mammoth fauna was congenerical and that those animals shared the same habitat. And now we know that they used to have specific ecological groups," he said.

"Apart from that, we discovered a genetically new bison species. We also found that the European bison, which now inhabits Europe, lived in the Urals. It was a surprise for paleontologists as bones of the extinct bison, the Bison-X and the European bison can hardly be distinguished from each other visually and only a DNA study made it possible to tell one from the other," Kosintsev added.