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Sci Adv. 2018 Jul 25;4(7):eaar5589. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aar5589. eCollection 2018 Jul.

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

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Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, 1350K Copenhagen, Denmark.
U.R. Preistoria e Antropologia, Dipartimento di Scienze Fisiche della Terra e dell'Ambiente, Università degli Studi di Siena, Via Laterina 8, 53100 Siena, Italy.
Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark.
Evolutionary Ecology Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.
School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, Old Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh EH8 9AG, UK.
Universität Rostock, Institut für Biowissenschaften, Allgemeine und Spezielle Zoologie, Universitätsplatz 2, 18055 Rostock, Germany.
Laboratoire d'Anthropobiologie Moléculaire et d'Imagerie de Synthèse, CNRS UMR 5288, Université de Toulouse, Université Paul Sabatier, 31000 Toulouse, France.


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.

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