Publications (2)9.68 Total impact
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ABSTRACT: The wide variation of fur and plumage colors in animals has fascinated people throughout history, and biologists have long debated its prominent role in evolution. Notably, Charles Darwin emphasized the importance of this phenotypic trait in his On the Origin of Species (first published 1859). However, although the importance of coat color in adaptation has been well docu-mented, the underlying genetic mechanisms are less well understood. The results of our studies on Paleolithic horses (1, 2) suggest that color phenotype variation in predomestic horses was greater than commonly assumed. We agree with Bar-Oz and Lev-Yadun (3) that the observed phenotypes mostly likely reflect the selection pressures imposed on horse populations by surrounding habitats. Evidence for this conclusion was produced in recent studies of mainland and beach mice from Florida (4) and of reintroduced wolves from the Yellowstone National Park (5), showing that lighter-colored phenotypes have an adaptive advantage in open landscapes, whereas dark phenotypes are better adapted to hab-itats with higher vegetation cover. In agreement with the fact that Late Glacial and Holocene horses in Western Europe featured hooves best adapted to the soft substrates of forests, black horses only appear in our sample set during the Holocene (1, 2), when forest cover had substantially increased across Europe. However, our set of samples is currently too patchy to draw any firm con-clusions about a possible correlation between horse phenotypes and the surrounding environment at a certain time. Therefore, we agree with Bar-Oz and Lev-Yadun that coat color variation is "not a random phenomenon but rather the outcome of selection" and that our results "highlight the sharp observation capability of Paleolithic people to document wild animals." Additional data will be necessary to correlate color phenotypes with the surrounding environment; for example, isotope analyses would help to eluci-date the paleoenvironment and paleodiet of these animals (6).Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences United States of America. 01/2012; 109(20):E1213.
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ABSTRACT: Archaeologists often argue whether Paleolithic works of art, cave paintings in particular, constitute reflections of the natural environment of humans at the time. They also debate the extent to which these paintings actually contain creative artistic expression, reflect the phenotypic variation of the surrounding environment, or focus on rare phenotypes. The famous paintings "The Dappled Horses of Pech-Merle," depicting spotted horses on the walls of a cave in Pech-Merle, France, date back ~25,000 y, but the coat pattern portrayed in these paintings is remarkably similar to a pattern known as "leopard" in modern horses. We have genotyped nine coat-color loci in 31 predomestic horses from Siberia, Eastern and Western Europe, and the Iberian Peninsula. Eighteen horses had bay coat color, seven were black, and six shared an allele associated with the leopard complex spotting (LP), representing the only spotted phenotype that has been discovered in wild, predomestic horses thus far. LP was detected in four Pleistocene and two Copper Age samples from Western and Eastern Europe, respectively. In contrast, this phenotype was absent from predomestic Siberian horses. Thus, all horse color phenotypes that seem to be distinguishable in cave paintings have now been found to exist in prehistoric horse populations, suggesting that cave paintings of this species represent remarkably realistic depictions of the animals shown. This finding lends support to hypotheses arguing that cave paintings might have contained less of a symbolic or transcendental connotation than often assumed.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 11/2011; 108(46):18626-30. · 9.68 Impact Factor