Mitochondrial Genomes of Giant Deers Suggest their Late Survival in Central Europe
Alexander Immel , Dorothée G. Drucker , Tina K. Jahnke , Susanne C. Münzel , Verena J. Schuenemann , Marion Bonazzi , Alexander Herbig , Claus-Joachim Kind , Johannes Krause
The giant deer Megaloceros giganteus is among the most fascinating Late Pleistocene Eurasian megafauna that became extinct at the end of the last ice age. Important questions persist regarding its phylogenetic relationship to contemporary taxa and the reasons for its extinction. We analyzed two large ancient cervid bone fragments recovered from cave sites in the Swabian Jura (Baden-Württemberg, Germany) dated to 12,000 years ago. Using hybridization capture in combination with next generation sequencing, we were able to reconstruct nearly complete mitochondrial genomes from both specimens. Both mtDNAs cluster phylogenetically with fallow deer and show high similarity to previously studied partial Megaloceros giganteus DNA from Kamyshlov in western Siberia and Killavullen in Ireland. The unexpected presence of Megaloceros giganteus in Southern Germany after the Ice Age suggests a later survival in Central Europe than previously proposed. The complete mtDNAs provide strong phylogenetic support for a Dama-Megaloceros clade. Furthermore, isotope analyses support an increasing competition between giant deer, red deer, and reindeer after the Last Glacial Maximum, which might have contributed to the extinction of Megaloceros in Central Europe.