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Was Spain the panda's last natural home in Europe?
By thinkSPAIN Team Tue, Dec 3, 2019
Paleontologists studying fossils in Las Casiones (Teruel) have discovered the presence of the species Indarctos, a relative of the giant panda found in China today.
A study published back in 2012 concluded that the last European pandas lived in the Iberian Peninsula. They uncovered proof of the existence of relatives of the giant panda in what is currently Spain dating back between 11 and 12 million years in various fossil remains excavated from sites Abocador de Can Mata in Els Hostalets de Pierola (Barcelona) and Nombrevilla-2 in Daroca (Zaragoza).
They were the oldest fossils of their kind in Europe belonging to a species which is currently only found in Asia. The most emblematic of them all, China's giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) a species that would have evolved from a more basal bear, like the ones found fossilised in the Spanish sites.
Now, a new study led by paleontologist Juan Abella at the Catalan Institute of Paleontology (ICP) together with the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC), the universities of Cape Town and Valencia and the Paleontology Foundation Teruel-Dinópolis, has described postcranial remains and teeth belonging to Indarctos punjabiensis in Las Casiones (Teruel) which are calculated to be 6.23 million years old.
The discovery, published on December 2nd in "Geodiversitas" magazine suggests that the last European panda really did appear to live in the Iberian Peninsula.
"Based on cranial, mandibular and dental characteristics, these fossils can be classified in the Ailuropodinae subfamily, thus making them relatives of today's giant panda", said Abella.
According to genetic methods, the ailuropodinae separated from other subfamilies of current bear species during the Late Miocene, about 20 million years ago.
"These were the predominant bears in the carnivoran assemblages for most of the Late Miocene in the Iberian Peninsula," he explained, adding that at least three different species of bear lived at that time in the region that is now Spain.
"These fossils of Indarctos punjabiensis represent the last population of this subfamily from the Iberian fossil record, and possibly also from Europe, making this an important advance in our knowledge of the evolutionary history of this group".
According to the paleontologist, the skeleton of Indarctos suggests it was omnivorous, but with a large vegetable component in its diet. Its young could climb trees with relative ease to escape from danger and the more mature bears were able to fend off almost any attack due to their large size and their powerful claws.
According to the scientists, six million years ago Las Casiones (9km north of Teruel) was an area with many lakes and diverse fauna including other large mammals like hippopotamus, rhinoceros and Proboscidea, close relatives of today's elephants, as well as hyenas and other carnivores that are now extinct.
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