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A middle Holocene steppe bison and paleoenvironments from the Versleuce Meadows, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada


A partial skeleton of a bison was recovered during residential house construction in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. The specimen represents a young (estimated 6 year old) bison individual that died, was partially scavenged by carnivores, and subsequently buried by calcareous silt sediment in a pond or small lake during the middle Holocene, ~5400 years ago. Palaeoenvironmental data, including molluscs, pollen, vascular plant, and bryophyte macrofossils demonstrate that the small waterbody was surrounded by white spruce dominated boreal forest. Morphometric analysis of the skeleton reveals that its taxonomic affinity is ambiguous, likely owing to it representing an ontogenetically young individual, though it does share some cranial and horn core characteristics of named species such as Bison occidentalis or Bison priscus. Mitochondrial genomic data confirm that this bison belongs to Clade 2A (northern clade), which represents Pleistocene steppe bison (B. cf. priscus) in Beringia through the Holocene and is not represented in living bison species. These data further demonstrate that northern steppe bison population survived the late Pleistocene extinction event, persisted locally in southern Yukon into the Holocene, and are best characterized as a species with a high degree of morphological variability and ecological flexibility.

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