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Range dynamics of the reindeer in Europe during the last 25,000 years

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Abstract

Aim

To understand the role and significance of the reindeer, Rangifer tarandus (Linnaeus, 1758), as a specific indicator in terms of late Quaternary biogeography and to determine the effects of global climate change on its range and local extinction dynamics at the end of the Ice Age.

Location

Late Pleistocene/early Holocene range of reindeer over all of central and western Europe, including southern Scandinavia and northern Iberia, but excluding Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine.

Methods

Radiocarbon-dated subfossil records of R. tarandus from both archaeological and natural deposits younger than 25,000 years were assembled in a database. The distribution area was divided into six representative regions. The 14C dates were calibrated and plotted chronologically in maps in order to compare presence and absence and regional extinction patterns from one region to another.

Results

After the Last Glacial Maximum, R. tarandus disappeared from south-eastern Central Europe but survived in the south-west until the Younger Dryas period. The ‘Allerød warming’ did not result in complete extirpation of reindeer in Central Europe. Reindeer probably disappeared c. 11,250 years ago in the North European Plain and c. 11,000 years ago in the British Isles. In southern Scandinavia the species survived until c. 10,300 years ago.

Main conclusions

The late Quaternary record for reindeer in Europe during the last 25 kyr shows a climate-driven dispersal and retreat in response to climate change, with regional variations. The collapse of the mammoth steppe biome did not lead to the local extinction in Europe, as in the case of other megafaunal species. Rangifer tarandus co-existed for about 3000 years during the Late Glacial and early Holocene with typical temperate species such as red deer and roe deer in non-analogue faunal communities. The regional extinction at the end of the Pleistocene coincides with the transition from light open birch/pine forests to pine/deciduous forests.

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