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Iberian Lynx: Oldest Ancestor Recently Found In Spain, Researchers Say

Oct 30, 2015 01:18 PM EDT
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Iberian lynx fossils dating to 1.6 million years ago were recently recovered from a cave in Barcelona, Spain. This specimen represents the oldest lynx specimen ever found, suggesting the species arrived in the area 500,000 years earlier than researchers previously thought. 

"We have confirmed this earlier appearance of the Iberian lynx based on initial molecular studies that estimate the emergence of this feline during the Early Pleistocene in the Iberian Peninsula,"  Alberto Boscaini, a researcher at the Miquel Crusafont Catalan Institute of Paleontology (ICP), said in a statement

Currently, the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is considered critically endangered; only about 300 individuals are alive today, some of which can be found roaming Spain's Doñana National Park. Iberian lynx are covered in spots, weigh between 10 and 13 kilograms, and grow to an average height of 88 to 100 centimeters.

After collecting the fossil specimens, researchers from the Spanish Foundation For Science and Technology (FECYT) determined the ancient version were between 10 and 20 centimeters larger and roughly 10 kilograms heavier than their modern offspring. Their elder version's coat was also longer in order to withstand continuous, near-freezing temperatures of the Early Pleistocene, according to a news release

Researchers noted that the Iberian lynx cranial fossils were found alongside horse, goat, deer, woolly mammoth, fox and wolf bones preserved in the Avenc Marcel Cave located in the Garraf massif of Barcelona. These finding helps researchers better understand the emergence of the Iberian Peninsula's most emblematic species and what ecosystems would have been like during the Early Pleistocene, according to the release. 

The first known species of lynx, Lynx issiodorensis, emerged in North America about four million years ago and then spread to areas of Asia and Europe, researchers explained. As it evolved in different ecosystems, it became smaller over time. Researchers believe the current lynx species that inhabits the Iberian Peninsula may have evolved differently as a result of isolation during several consecutive glacial periods. Speciation might have occurred as a result of hunting different prey. 

The study was recently published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

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