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Pantera Leo's family treet takes shape

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An international research group has helped expand our understanding of the lion species' family tree. The results were recently presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previously, the cave lion Panthera leo spelaea was found across much of Eurasia and as far as Alaska and Canada.

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The research team examined two cave lions, from Siberia and Canada's Yukon. They also looked at 12 lions from populations that died out in historical times in Africa and the Middle East. In addition, they examined six lions from populations that are still extant in Africa and India.

"The cave lions don't appear to have mixed much with the other subspecies. We find no evidence of hybridization between the cave lions and the other groups of lions," says Gilbert.

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The studies also indicate that cave lions and other lions most likely diverged about 500 000 years ago. 

Not only the cave lions are distinct from other lions. Modern lions also show two main branches that may have diverged some 70 000 years ago. "A northern branch includes Asian, North African and West African lions. A southern African branch includes southern, eastern and South African lions," says Martin.

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Lord Temptation

I find it cool how lions coexisted with tigers in South Asia and the Middle East, but not in Southeast and East Asia, where only tigers roamed (along with the smaller big cats like leopards). Wonder why that could be? 

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