Glacial refugia of mammals in Europe: evidence from fossil records


  • Editor: RM

R. S. Sommer. E-mail:


  • 1Glacial refugia were core areas for the survival of temperate species during unfavourable environmental conditions and were the sources of postglacial recolonizations. Unfortunately, the locations of glacial refugia of animals and plants are usually described by models, without reference to facts about real geographical ranges at that time.
  • 2Careful consideration of the faunal assemblages of archaeological sites from the Younger Palaeolithic, which are precisely dated to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), gives indications about the distribution of species during the LGM (23 000–16 000 bp) and provides evidence for the locations of glacial refugia for mammalian species in Europe.
  • 3In Europe, 47 LGM sites, dating from 23 000 to 16 000 bp and containing typical temperate mammal species, have been described. The geographical range of these archaeological sites clearly shows a distribution which differs from the hypothesized traditional refuge areas of the temperate fauna. A considerable number of sites situated in the Dordogne in south-western France and the Carpathian region contain records of red deer Cervus elaphus, roe deer Capreolus capreolus, wild boar Sus scrofa and red fox Vulpes vulpes.
  • 4The faunal composition of the majority of the evaluated Palaeolithic sites in the southern European peninsulas (with the exception of Greece), as well as France and the Carpathian region, indicates the co-occurrence of these temperate species with cold-adapted faunal elements such as mammoth Mammuthus primigenius and/or reindeer Rangifer tarandus.
  • 5The survival of species in Central European refugia would have significant consequences for phylogeography and would be revealed by the dominant distribution of haplotypes, originating from this region. A Carpathian refuge could also be the reason for the very early records of small mammals or mustelids from the Late-Glacial or Interstadials before the LGM in regions like southern Germany.