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van Heteren, Anneke H., Arlegi, Mikel, Santos, Elena, Arsuaga, Juan-Luis and Gomez-Olivencia, Asier (2019): Cranial and mandibular morphology of Middle Pleistocene cave bears (Ursus deningeri): implications for diet and evolution. In: Historical Biology, Vol. 31, No. 4: pp. 485-499

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Deninger's bears (Ursus deningeri) have been studied less frequently than Ursus spelaeus s.l. Our objective is to present, for the first time, an analysis of the skull shape of U. deningeri. Bear crania and mandibles were digitised with a Microscribe or CT-scanned and the surface models subsequently landmarked. The landmarks were chosen based on a compromise between functional morphology and sample size. Results show that U. deningeri and U. spelaeus mandibles display very similar morphologies and allometric trajectories, both to each other and to Ailuropoda melanoleuca. It is inferred that masticatory adaptations to a herbivorous diet were already present in the Middle Pleistocene. U. deningeri displays a cranial morphology that is similar to that of U. spelaeus when comparing all species, but U. deningeri has a relatively narrower and dorsoventrally lower zygomatic arch than U. spelaeus, although the masticatory signal is less strong in the skull. We observe intraspecific differences between different populations of U. deningeri, which could parallel the genetic diversity found in U. spelaeus. The intraspecific differences found within U. deningeri may be temporal and/or geographical in nature and could be related to the evolution of the Late Pleistocene cave bear, but this hypothesis remains to be tested.

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