Wednesday, 31 March 2021
Saturday, 27 February 2021
The ecologic niche of the aurochs and where it differed from that of the wisent is hard to ascertain as the aurochs is extinct. Right? Not exactly. There actually a lot of things on the ecology of the aurochs and its interplay with other European herbivores that we can infer from various sources.
1. The aurochs was a grazer and probably much like cattle ecologically
The aurochs had the hypsodont denture of a grazer, like cattle today . Anton Schneeberger writes that aurochs fed on acorns, mown grain and hay they were provided, and on branches of shrubs and trees during winter . It has been reported that aurochs grazed in the same places as cattle and horses . Since cattle descend from aurochs, and domestication probably did influence the basic diet in cattle , it can be assumed that aurochs and cattle were very much alike in food choice. There are differences within cattle, but that is mainly between highly derived breeds and landraces, since the former do not consume plants that are less digestible while the latter do .
Isotope analyses suggest that aurochs were found in more forested and wetter habitats than cattle, which mainly grazed on pastures . It is of course possible that this is a difference between the wildtype and the domestic form, but it is more likely that the aurochs was pushed into these less accessible regions because open habitats were reserved as pastures for domestic cattle. Also, free-roaming cattle have been found to prefer wet habitats as well . The continuous habitat loss was one of the driving factors for the aurochs’ extinction .
2. The aurochs preferred lowlands and wetter habitat than the wisent
The distribution of fossil and subfossil remains of aurochs and wisent have shown that aurochs preferred plain habitat and lowlands while wisent were found much more often in mountainous habitat . This is also in line with what is known of the historic distribution of both species . While it is true that both the wisent and the aurochs have been limited to hideaway regions due to habitat loss because of the human civilization and hunting, it probably has a reason why the hideaway regions of aurochs were marshes and lowlands and that of the wisent was mountainous habitat, and this region were the ecologic adaptions of the respective species. The wisent avoids areas which are too wet , which is why a replacement of the cattle at Oostvaardersplassen with wisent, as it has been discussed on occasion, is not feasible (Bunzel-Drüke, pers. comm.)
Nevertheless, both bovines must have met each other .
3. There was niche partitioning among Europe’s large herbivores
According to the competitive exclusion principle in ecology, two or more species cannot exist in one and the same ecologic niche. Therefore, there must have been niche partitioning among Europe’s large herbivores and apparently this was the case. Cattle consume more wooden material than horses, which are strict grazers. However, cattle do not include as much wooden material in their diet as the wisent, which is a so-called semi-intermediate feeder. So there is a graduation on how much the respective herbivore relies on either grasses or wooden material, with horses relying the most on grasses and wisents consuming the most wooden material, and cattle being intermediate . Since this niche partitioning is the result of evolutionary adaptions of these species, it is likely that this would also be the niche partitioning between wild horse, aurochs and wisent.
Therefore, considering the differing habitat and food preferences, cattle and wisent would concur only to a limited extent in Europe’s nature systems. So the fear that wisent and cattle cannot be kept in the same reserve is baseless as long as the reserve provides habitats for both species. Another reason why some people have objections against (re)introducing cattle into European nature systems is that they are concerned that wisent and cattle would hybridize. However, a work by Frans Vera has concluded that cattle and wisent do not hybridize spontaneously and only under artificial conditions, which also often lead to the assault of the domestic individual by the wisent . Furthermore, parturition does not occur in those hybrid pregnancies , what makes human assistance necessary. Thus, cattle and wisent would not produce hybrid populations in the wild even if mating between both species would occur.
 Lynch et al.: Where the wild things are: aurochs and cattle in England. 2008.
 van Vuure: Retracing the aurochs – history, morphology and ecology of an extinct wild ox. 2005
 Poettinger, J.: Vergleichende Studie zur Haltung und zum Verhalten des Wisents und des Heckrinds. 2011.
 Bunzel-Drüke, Finck, Kämmer, Luick, Reisinger, Riecken, Riedl, Scharf & Zimball: „Wilde Weiden: Praxisleitfaden für Ganzjahresbeweidung in Naturschutz und Landschaftsentwicklung“. 2011
 Gander et al.: Habitat use of Scottish Highland cattle in a lakeshore wetland. 2003.
 Vera: Do European bison and domestic cattle hybridize spontaneously? 2002.
Saturday, 20 February 2021
Thursday, 11 February 2021
|A Heck horse mare in the Tierpark Hellabrunn. The Heck horse is a well-known "breeding-back" result with horses.|
|A Przewalksi x Konik mare in the Lippeaue|
|A reconstruction of the Holocene wild horse as suggested by recent evidence (the mane is still speculative).|
Sunday, 7 February 2021
Saturday, 23 January 2021
|Lerida, a Heck x Sayaguesa, in young years © Matthias Scharf|
|Lerida a little bit older © Matthias Scharf|
|Photographed in the Lippeaue 2013, all rights reserved.|
Sunday, 10 January 2021
|© Claus Kropp|
|© Claus Kropp|
Sunday, 27 December 2020
|Aurochs bull and cow. Based on the Lund bull and the Cambridge specimen. It is a rather old reconstruction of mine, I still consider it accurate except for the raised pelvis in the bull and that the horn tips do not face inwards enough|
Saturday, 26 December 2020
Sunday, 20 December 2020
|All rights reserved.|
|All rights reserved.|
|© Markus Bühler|
|All rights reserved.|
Sunday, 13 December 2020
|Skeleton, muscle reconstruction and life reconstruction of the Sassenberg cow specimen © All rights reserved, please do not use without permission.|
|The Sassenberg cow with a shagger coat during fall. Please do not use without permission.|
Monday, 30 November 2020
Here is the video.
Sunday, 29 November 2020
So that we can expect the following crosses for the next few years:
|Apollo (Watussi x Maremmana) © Claus Kropp|
|Benito (Maremmana x Sayaguesa) © Claus Kropp|
Wednesday, 25 November 2020
Therefore, I have been making some thoughts on a project that minimizes the amount of undesired traits but still is able to achieve all the aurochs traits that are achievable with domestic cattle.
Such a project would have to chose breeds that already resemble the aurochs to a large degree and do not have any undesired recessive colour variants or different horn shapes or sizes. I think that a combination of wildtype-coloured Lidia, Maronesa and Sayaguesa would be suitable for this purpose. Lidia would contribute a very aurochs-like body morphology, Maronesa has the sexual dimorphism and horn shape (in good individuals) and Sayaguesa would contribute large size, long snouts (at least in cows) and long legs. The horn shape of this combination would be good to very good, no deviant colour variants would be present and since some Sayaguesa grow up to 170 cm withers height the right size would also be found in the gene pool. The bulls might end up a bit short-legged, however, and the horn size might not be that impressive, but overall it would be possible to breed a good result quite fast and would be a lot easier to stabilize. I would love to see Lidia x Maronesa, Lidia x Sayaguesa or Sayaguesa x (Lidia x Maronesa).
Monday, 23 November 2020
While the genetics of coat colour of domestic animals are comparably well-studied, the genetic background of other aspects, such as the horn shape and size of cattle, remains nebulous. Only the genes for the polled and scurred conditions are resolved, while the genes that determinate the shape of the horns as well as the size are unresolved.
Horn size is a quantitative trait. That means it is influenced by a larger quantity of genes and shows a continuum. The identity and influence of those individual genes is probably largely unknown, but crossbreeding results can provide a clue for speculations.
The idea for this post came to my mind when I saw photos of the Taurus cow “Lippe”, which is an F2 (Sayaguesa x Heck) individual.
It is notable that the cow has very small horns like a Chianina. Yet it has no Chianina in its ancestry, only Heck and Sayaguesa. Two breeds that have horns that can be described as at least medium sized – the horns of the Heck cattle used in the Lippeaue are actually comparably large. So it is possible to breed individuals with tiny horns from two breeds that have at least medium-sized horns within only two generations.
How is that possible? One possibility is that the gene or genes for this tiny horn size is or are recessive, and that the F2 carries two of the recessive alleles and is thus homozygous. However, in this case we would also see tiny-horned Sayaguesa and Heck cattle on occasion. The other explanation, which is much more plausible to me, is that this tiny horn size is the result of a cumulative effect. Sayaguesa may have alleles for small horn size one the one locus, and Heck cattle on another locus. In the F1 generation these loci would be heterozygous, thus the horn size would still be medium-sized. But in the F2 generation, coincidentally, the cow might be homozygous for the alleles causing small horn size on both loci, resulting in the very small horns not seen in the parental breeds or F1 animals. It might involve even more loci, two would be the minimum.
The horn size we see in Chianina might be caused by different loci or alleles, we cannot know without resolving the alleles and testing it. Crossbreeds suggest that at least some of the alleles causing the small horn size in Chianina are recessive. The crossbred Taurus bull 01 856 was the son of the bull Laokoon and the cow Larissa, two individuals with medium-sized horns. However, both parents were part Chianina (25% respectively 62,5%). 01 856 happened to have rather small horns, not larger than in Chianina. This suggests that at least some of the alleles causing the horn size in Chianina are recessive. It would also explain why many half-Chianina individuals had horns of medium size (such as the bull Luca or the cow Larissa).
If the small horn size of Chianina is indeed recessive, this is bad news. Recessive alleles are difficult to purge effectively from the population.
If it is possible to breed horns smaller than in both parental breeds within two generations, as the cow Lippe demonstrates, it might also be possible to breed large horns out of two breeds with medium-sized horns in few generations. This would depend on which alleles the parental breeds have.
Friday, 20 November 2020
Thursday, 19 November 2020
The traditional view is that of Europe being a heavily forested continent. This view has been challenged in recent decades. It has been proposed that herbivores prevent open landscapes from becoming forested by damaging forest growth with their feeding, and are even able to turn forests into open landscapes this way. As a result, Europe’s original landscape would not have been one big forest but a mix of open landscapes, park-like landscapes and forests . Some even claim Europe was a large grassland savannah.
Indeed no large mammal in Europe is dependent on forests while they need at least some open landscape in their habitat [2,3]. Africa is used as an analogue, where large herbivores are claimed to create the open landscape we are familiar with. Especially elephants, which uproot trees are suspected to create open landscapes .
There is conflicting data, however. Studies suggest that the uprooting of trees by elephants does not diminish the forest but instead speeds up the forest rejuvenation . And it is overlooked that not only the savannah but also the deep rainforests are home to large herbivores, such as the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), the forest buffalo (Syncerus nanus) and the okapi (Okapia johnstoni) . There are also several species of large herbivores living in the rain forests of South-East Asia (banteng, gaur, Asian elephant). If large herbivores create open landscapes, elephants in particular, the forest elephant would be a contradiction in itself: a forest-adapted elephant (f.e. the smaller size) would not exist if elephants created open landscapes with their feeding and uprooting of trees.
Furthermore, and more importantly, palynologic data suggests that Europe was densely forested until very recent millennia when man started agriculture in Europe . Also the insect fauna shows that forest-dwelling species were very common in Europe until recently . It is argued, however, that also an intensely grazed grassland area has the same palynologic signature as a closed forest (see for example the works of Frans Vera). But this apparently is only the case at a very high herbivore density , and it cannot explain why the data from insects suggest high forestation.
Another argument against ancient Europe being a grassland savannah and for a strongly forested continent is the distribution of the European wild horse in the Holocene. The horse is heavily dependent on a grassy diet and is an open land animal. It got very rare in Europe after the last glacial . It virtually disappeared from Central Europe . When agriculture began, the equine remains increased again, possibly due to an increase in open landscapes . These distribution patterns contradict the hypothesis that Europe would have been a grassland savannah due to grazing and instead supports the hypothesis of Europe without human influence being a mostly forested continent.
Europe’s original landscape continues to be a subject of debate. The data that is available to me suggests that the idea of ancient Europe being a grassland savannah with large herds of horses is not the likeliest scenario.
 Bunzel-Drüke et al.: Der Einfluss von Großherbivoren auf die Naturlandschaft Mitteleuropas. 2001.
 Beutler: Die Großtierfauna Europas und ihr Einfluss auf Vegetation und Landschaft. 1996.
 Bunzel-Drüke et al.: Überlegungen zu Wald, Mensch und Megafauna. 1994.
 van Vuure: Retracing the aurochs – history, morphology and ecology of an extinct wild ox. 2005.
 Sommer et al.: Holocene survival of the wild horse in Europe – a matter of open landscape? 2010.
Friday, 13 November 2020
|The Vig specimen at the National museum of Denmark, © Markus Bühler|
|Life reconstruction of the Vig bull|
Tuesday, 10 November 2020
Friday, 30 October 2020
Claus Kropp has recently posted some new photos of the cattle from the Auerrind project:
|left: Maremmana x Sayaguesa, right: Maremmana x Watussi (© Claus Kropp)|
|Maremmana x Watussi (© Claus Kropp)|
|(Maremmana x Watussi) x (Sayaguesa x Chianina) (© Claus Kropp)|
|Maremmana x Sayaguesa (©Claus Kropp)|
The Maremmana x Sayaguesa bull seems to develop formidable horns. I love his curly hair on the forehead, a typical trait of the European aurochs. The Maremmana x Watussi bull has large horns as well. On Facebook, Claus Kropp wrote that a pure Sayaguesa or Sayaguesa x Chianina might be crossbreeding options for this bull, and I completely agree with that. The young (Maremmana x Watussi) x (Sayaguesa x Chianina) bull should be old enough to have its final colour, apparently it inherited some colour dilutions. However, if it gets large and well-proportioned I would still consider him a useful individual (colour is easy to breed), especially if he gets good horns.