…………….Species: Bison latifrons (extinct Long-horned Bison)
…………….Species: Bison antiquus (extinct Ancient Bison)
…………….Species: Bison bison American Bison
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bison bison (American Plains Bison)
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bison athabascae (American Wood Bison)
…………….Species: Bison bonasus (European Bison)
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bonasus bonasus (Lowland Bison)
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bonasus caucasicus (extinct in 1925)
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bonasus hungarorum (extinct Hungarian Bison)
The steppe bison or steppe wisent (Bison priscus) is an extinct species of bison that was once found on the Mammoth steppe where its range included Europe, Central Asia, Japan,Yakutia, Beringia, and northwest Canada during the Quaternary.
Bison latifrons (also known as the broad-headed paleo-bison, giant Ice Age bison or long-horned bison) is an extinct species of bison that lived in North America during the Pleistoceneepoch. B. latifrons thrived in North America for approximately 200,000 years, but became extinct some 20,000–30,000 years ago, at the beginning of the Last Glacial Maximum.
Just who are Bison related to?
Put simply, the evolutionary history of Bison is complicated. I do not mean this to sound arrogant, or the typical hipster millennial “ironic” meaning. I mean, it is very complicated. Dozens of papers with many authors have attempted to answer this question, “How are bison, cattle, and oxen related to each other?”
If you would like to follow along with what I am talking about in an interactive format, please go here: http://www.onezoom.org/life.html/@=768677?vis=spiral#x934,y-332,w1.9788.
Bison and the cattles in the Tree of Life. Taxonomic classification labels are added. Abbreviations: Ma (mega annum = million years ago). Found at: http://www.onezoom.org/life.html/@=768677?vis=spiral#x934,y-332,w1.9788
To begin, we’ll start at the taxonomic classification Family, the Bovidae (140+ living species and 300+ extinct species). Here contain our well known antelopes, cattles, gazelles, goats, and sheep. The characteristic of Bovids, is their four-chambered, ruminating stomachs and at least one pair of horns. They also typically inhabit grasslands. Their specialized ingestion and digestion forms are likely a result of their grazing lifestyle. These Family members can be traced back to around 22 million years ago, in the late Oligocene and early Miocene, when none of these existed, except for the extinct most common ancestor (Solounias et al., 1995; Badgley et al., 2008; Bibi, 2013). This would have looked like a cross between all of these (similar to Eotragus sp.) somewhere in Africa or the Middle East.
Illustration: Eotragus sp. –T. Krutchuen, 2015.
Splitting down to the subfamily, Bovinae (24 species, ~9 living genera, in 3 tribes), these are our wild cattle, bison, Asian buffalo, kudu, and domestic cattle. The common ancestor for Bovinae existed somewhere around 17.7 million years ago in the middle Miocene (sensu Selenoportax vexillarius) (Badgley et al., 2008; Bibi, 2013).
From here is where the uncertainty lies and is reflected in the nomenclature of taxonomy, the subdivisions of taxonomy are referred to as a tribe, rather than a supergenus. Bison and Bos belong to the tribe Bovini which also includes Bubalus (water buffalo), Syncerus (cape buffalo), and Peudoryx (saola; Google this one, it looks similar to the Eotragus from above) (Ropiquet and Hassanin, 2005; MacEachern et al., 2009; Hassanin et al., 2013). The common ancestor for Bovini existed some 8.9 million years ago, in the late Miocene (sensu Selenoportax giganteus) (Bibi, 2013). The ancestor to Bison and Bos, at this time was Parabos. Parabos was found from Spain throughout Europe and spread East into Asia, giving rise to Proleptobos in China some 9 million years ago.
However, a further split, that is accepted is the oxen subtribe, Bovina (Hassanin and Ropiquet, 2004; MacEachern et al., 2009; Hassanin, 2015). This clade is represented only by Bison and Bos as the living genera and represents another 9 extinct genera. The subtribe Bovina split from the other subtribes around 4.6 million years ago (Bibi, 2013), in the early Pliocene Upper Siwaliks deposits of Pakistan (Khan et al., 2010)
(Khan et al., 2010). Within this deposit an ancestral form of bison (Probison dehmi, a sister group, not directly related to Leptobos) gave rise, some 3.3 million years ago, to the well accepted bison progenitor and radiated from the Bos tree, Bison sivalensis of the Siwaliks deposits in Pakistan (Pucek et al., 2002; Khan et al., 2010). Bison sivalensis gave rise to Bison priscus some 2 million years ago in eastern Asia (McDonald, 1981; Pucek et al., 2002). Furthermore, Bison priscus migrates into North America over the Bering Land Bridge some 1.2 million years ago (McDonald, 1981; Meagher, 1986).
Contemporaneously, this is when the aurochs (Bos primigenius) radiated from Leptobos, again some 1.2 million years ago (Vuure, 2005; Martínez-Navarro et al., 2007; Hassanin, 2015). Let me re-emphasize the point here, aurochs is not directly related to Bison, it is merely closely indirectly related through the Leptobos common ancestor. The aurochs is the grandfather of the modern cattles (humped zebu and brahma (Bos indicus), and the humpless Bos taurus) through two distinct domestication events in India and Europe, circa 8500 BCE and 6500 BCE (Vuure, 2005; Edwards et al., 2010; Hassanin, 2015).
Again, this means that we know that Bos and Bison split some 1.2 million years ago. However, what happens after 1.2 million years is where the more evidence we gather, the more muddled the waters become. It appears that through several ancient admixture events, ancient natural interbreeding pre-dating anthropogenic domestication, that the genetics of Bos and Bison were re-exchanged (Verkaar et al., 2003, 2004; Murray et al., 2010; Marsolier-Kergoat et al., 2015; Gautier et al., 2016; Massilani et al., 2016; Wecek et al., 2016). An alternative explanation is that because these two genera split relatively recently, that the genetic makeup is so similar because of incomplete lineage sorting (evolutionarily closely related taxa sharing genetic makeup) (Verkaar et al., 2004; MacEachern et al., 2009; Pertoldi et al., 2010; Bibi, 2013; Hassanin et al., 2013; Marsolier-Kergoat et al., 2015; Gautier et al., 2016; Wecek et al., 2016). Either, admixture or incomplete lineage sorting, explain the occurrence of (and expect there to be) cattle alleles in modern bison populations (Gautier et al., 2016; Leonardi et al., 2016; Massilani et al., 2016; Wecek et al., 2016). Moreover, this is supported by the presence of cattle alleles present in 19,000 year old bison (Marsolier-Kergoat et al., 2015).
Several migration events in and into North America, controlled by the oscillation of full-glacial and interglacial periods, of Bison populated the Alaska region and the contiguous United States (Canada is under ice during most of this) (Shapiro et al., 2004; Wilson et al., 2008). The migration route used is through Ice-Free Corridor, along the Canadian Rockies Cordilleran, where the alpine glaciers of the Rockies and the sheet glacier of the Canadian shield would periodically touch and pull apart (Wilson et al., 2008; Zazula et al., 2009; Heintzman et al., 2016). The glacial separation of these arctic and temperate populations to create the distinct lineages, Bison latifrons and Bison antiquus (McDonald, 1981; Wilson et al., 2008) (here, B. occidentalis is included within B. antiquus) (McDonald and Lammers, 2002).
Figure 1. Phylogeny of the bovini (modified from (Hassanin and Ropiquet, 2004)).
This timeline should not be used alone. The timeline ignores the intricacies of the total phylogenetic tree of the other related bovids. Abbreviations: Ma, mega annum (millions of years ago), ka, kilo annum (thousands of years ago). Timeline is not to scale.
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