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A comparative analysis of the habitat of the extinct aurochs and other prehistoric mammals in Britain

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The present study tests the hypothesis that the habitat of the globally extinct aurochs Bos primigenius was primarily riverine flat-lands. Landscape features in Britain were analyzed for sites with Late Pleistocene and postglacial finds of aurochs (n=188), and, for comparison, wolf (101), brown bear (96), red deer (73), beaver (68), roe deer (46) and moose (23). Find sites were defined as Ordnance Survey 1 km map squares containing 1 or more finds. For each, spot height above sea level, heights of contour lines, flatness of terrain, total length of watercourses, and presence of woods, rock and water features were noted. Comparisons of find sites among species (Kruskal-Wallis test) show significant differences that accord with knowledge of present-day habitat preferences at the landscape level. Considering the species separately each find site was then compared with a randomly selected control map square within 10 km. Compared with their respective control squares, find sites of beaver have, today, a stronger association with presence of lakes; those of brown bear and wolf with presence of cliffs and rock outcrops; and those of aurochs with absence of woodland and with lower elevation and greater flatness. The concordance of these findings with the present-day habitats of the extant species suggests valid inferences can be made about the habitat preference of the extinct aurochs. On this basis the aurochs appears, as hypothesized, to have selected low-lying, flat ground, which (indicated by its present-day use for purposes other than woodland) was relatively fertile.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2008

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