The origin and evolutionary history of the European bison Bison bonasus (wisent) have become clearer after several morphological, genomic, and paleogenomic studies in the last few years, but these paleogenomic studies have raised new questions about the evolution of the species.
Research conducted by scientists at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences provides new information about the population diversity of the species based on the analysis of new subfossil Holocene remains from the Balkan Peninsula.
Seven ancient samples excavated from caves in Western Stara Planina in Bulgaria were investigated by mitochondrial D‐loop (HVR1) sequence analysis. The samples were dated to 3,800 years BP by radiocarbon analysis.
Additionally, a phylogenetic analysis was performed to investigate the genetic relationship among the investigated samples and all mitochondrial DNA sequences from the genus Bison available in GenBank. The results clustered with the sequences from the extinct Holocene South‐Eastern (Balkan) wisent to the fossil Alpine population from France, Austria, and Switzerland, but not with those from the recent Central European (North Sea) one and the now extinct Caucasian population.
In conclusion, these data indicate that the Balkan wisent that existed in historical time represented a relict and probably an isolated population of the Late Pleistocene‐Holocene South‐Western mountainous population of the wisent. The presumed route of dispersal of the group is from the Caucasus and Asia Minor through the Balkans to the western territories of Europe. The comparison of the results from this region to the other available bison genetic data fills an important gap in our understanding of the origin and migration processes of the European bison (wisent).