New paper: Late Quaternary horses in Eurasia in the face of climate and vegetation change

Horses in Camargue, France. Photo by Michela Leonardi
Horses in Camargue, France. Photo by Michela Leonardi

It just came out in Science Advances our paper “Late Quaternary horses in Eurasia in the face of climate and vegetation change“, done in collaboration with Ludovic Orlando (Copenhagen/Toulouse), David Nogues-Bravo (Copenhagen), Andrea Manica (Cambridge), Francesco Boschin and Paolo Boscato (Siena), and many other excellent scientists!

This study represents the most ambitious effort so far to reconstruct the palaeoecology of the horse in Eurasia through more than 40 thousand years to gain a better understanding of their population dynamics through space and time. Our results suggest that European and Asian horses show different climatic adaptations;  allow a better understanding of the progressive reduction in European horse remains during the Holocene, and shed new light on potential domestication centres.

Michela Leonardi, Francesco Boschin, Konstantinos Giampoudakis, Robert M. Beyer, Mario Krapp, Robin Bendrey, Robert Sommer, Paolo Boscato, Andrea Manica, David Nogues-Bravo and Ludovic Orlando

Late Quaternary horses in Eurasia in the face of climate and vegetation change

Wild horses thrived across Eurasia until the Last Glacial Maximum to collapse after the beginning of the Holocene. The interplay of climate change, species adaptability to different environments, and human domestication in horse history is still lacking coherent continental-scale analysis integrating different lines of evidence. We assembled temporal and geographical information on 3070 horse occurrences across Eurasia, frequency data for 1120 archeological layers in Europe, and matched them to paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental simulations for the Late Quaternary. Climate controlled the distribution of horses, and they inhabited regions in Europe and Asia with different climates and ecosystem productivity, suggesting plasticity to populate different environments. Their decline in Europe during the Holocene appears associated with an increasing loss and fragmentation of open habitats. Europe was the most likely source for the spread of horses toward more temperate regions, and we propose both Iberia and central Asia as potential centers of domestication.

Science Advances, Vol. 4, no. 7, eaar5589