TechFrom brink of extinction to comeback: how the European bison is reclaiming its place in the wild

From brink of extinction to comeback: how the European bison is reclaiming its place in the wild

European bison - illustrative photo
European bison - illustrative photo
Images source: © Pixabay | Andrzej Kułak

2:58 PM EST, December 27, 2023

Scientists from institutions such as the Mammal Biology Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Białowieża and the University of Adelaide in Australia began investigating the causes of this population decline and subsequent regional extinction of the European Bison (Bison bonasus). They shared their research findings in the scientific journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences".

European bison nearly went extinct due to human activity

Experts point out that the European bison was widespread throughout Europe after the Pleistocene age. Its population, however, dwindled over the years. By 1927, the last of the wild bison had utterly died out. At this point, about 60 representatives of this species were surviving in captivity.

Seeking answers about what happened to these largest land mammals in Europe, scientists analyzed related data from bone remains and fossil DNA of bison. They also studied paleoclimatic models, environmental data, and information on human populations. Science in Poland explained that around 14,700 years ago, the bison's range began to shrink due to the rapid warming of the climate, impacting their habitats. But it was human activities that ultimately sealed the bison's fate.

The study's authors conducted 55,000 simulations to check the effects of climate, environmental changes, and human activity on the European bison over 21,000 years. From these simulations, they observed that hunting in the north and east affected the population and distribution of the animals, while changes in land use led to losses in the west and south.

About 7,300 European bison live in the wild, with more than 2,600 found in Poland. Efforts have been made to reintroduce them to various locations worldwide, including the Dutch dunes and the French Alps, but without much success. As such, scientists emphasize that the reintroduction of bison to the environment must be done with an understanding of the species' biogeography. Using spatial modeling, they found that the best conditions for reintroduction are in Poland, Ukraine, and western Russia, where bison would naturally reside if not for hunting and environmental changes.

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