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The skull of the extinct rhinoceros Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis (Jäger, 1839) was discovered in the Chondon River valley (Arctic Yakutia, Russia) during the summer of 2014. This is the first find of Stephanorhinus above the Arctic Circle, expanding significantly the known geographic range of the genus. 14C dating and geologic evidence indicate that the skull dates to between 48,000 and 70,000 yr, corresponding to Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 4/3. It is thus among the latest records of this species. To explore the evolutionary and natural history of this relatively unknown animal, we performed morphological, dietary, and genetic analyses. Phylogenetic inference based on a complete mitochondrial genome sequence confirms the systematic placement of Stephanorhinus as most closely related to the extinct woolly rhinoceros, Coelodonta. Food remains in the fossas of the cheek teeth, identified as Larix, Vaccinium, Betula sp., Aulacomnium, and dicotyledonous herbs and grasses, suggest a mixed feeder’s diet. Microwear analysis suggests that, during the last months of its life, this individual fed predominantly on leaves and twigs. The habitat of Stephanorhinus comprised grassland and open woodland that were characterized by moist and cold climate conditions, similar to those in the region today.
A megaslump at Batagaika, in northern Yakutia, exposes a remarkable stratigraphic sequence of permafrost deposits ~50–80 m thick. To determine their potential for answering key questions about Quaternary environmental and climatic change in northeast Siberia, we carried out a reconnaissance study of their cryostratigraphy and paleoecology, supported by four rangefinder 14C ages. The sequence includes two ice complexes separated by a unit of fine sand containing narrow syngenetic ice wedges and multiple paleosols. Overall, the sequence developed as permafrost grew syngenetically through an eolian sand sheet aggrading on a hillslope. Wood remains occur in two forest beds, each associated with a reddened weathering horizon. The lower bed contains high amounts of Larix pollen (>20%), plus small amounts of Picea and Pinus pumila, and is attributed to interglacial conditions. Pollen from the overlying sequence is dominated by herbaceous taxa (~70%–80%) attributed to an open tundra landscape during interstadial climatic conditions. Of three hypothetical age schemes considered, we tentatively attribute much of the Batagaika sequence to Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 3. The upper and lower forest beds may represent a mid–MIS 3 optimum and MIS 5, respectively, although we cannot discount alternative attributions to MIS 5 and 7.
An incomplete carcass of an extinct bison, Bison ex gr. priscus, was discovered in 2012 in the mouth of the Rauchua River (69°30′N, 166°49′E), Chukotka. The carcass included the rump with two hind limbs, ribs, and large flap of hide from the abdomen and sides, several vertebrae, bones of the forelimbs and anterior autopodia, stomach with its contents, and wool. The limb bones are relatively gracile, which is unusual in bison, and a SEM study of the hair microstructure suggests higher insulating capacity than in extant members of the genus. Additionally, mitochondrial DNA analyses indicate that the Rauchua bison belonged to a distinct and previously unidentified lineage of steppe bison. Two radiocarbon dates suggest a Holocene age for the bison: a traditional 14C date provided an estimate of 8030 ± 70 14C yr ВР (SPb-743) and an AMS radiocarbon date provided an age of 9497 ± 92 14C yr BP (AA101271). These dates make this the youngest known bison from Chukotka. Analysis of stomach contents revealed a diet of herbaceous plants (meadow grasses and sedges) and shrubs, suggesting that the early Holocene vegetation near the mouth of the Rauchua River was similar to that of the present day: tundra-associated vegetation with undersized plants.
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