Project 1606

INQUA Project 1606: Ground squirrels on the march: expansion and speciation in the Quaternary of the Circum-Pontic area and surroundings


Lilia Popova (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine). Email

Lutz Christian Maul (Senckenberg Research Institute, Research Station of Quaternary Palaeontology, Weimar, Germany). Email


This project built upon and is a continuation of INQUA Project 1501P, with the same background. Namely, the aim is to shed light on the impact of geographical barriers on species distribution, evolution and expansion. Suitable test subjects have to be organisms with apparent respond to these barrier changes (i.e., neither humans, megafauna nor vegetation, with their high abilities to disperse, but, e.g., ground squirrels).

This offers the following useful opportunities:

  • to compare existing reconstructions of potential constraints for human and biota dispersal with the picture obtained on the basis of the species, whose migration abilities were really strongly restricted by the environment.
  • to represent palaeoenvironment as a system of barriers for species expansion that offers the new approach to such impressive Quaternary processes as large-scale river channel changes, fluvial network transformation and sea level changes.
  • to study surviving of populations in non-optimal environments (that is a rather common situation for a population when its range changes significantly).
  • Since these questions concern not only ground squirrels, our aim is to create a multidisciplinary forum to synthesize evidences from different research fields and from different parts of the Circum-Pontic area, and to introduce young researchers in outstanding questions of palaeoecology, palaeobiogeography and paleogeography.

    However, fossil ground squirrels do provide important advantages for such a study. Their ecology and behaviour (burrowing life style, social behaviour, hibernation, high interspecific competition resulting in rather strict allopatry) limit their ability to overcome the impediments imposed by physical geography. In addition, ground squirrels burrow taphocoenoses are often rich in fossils and formed during an autochthon accumulation, without any transport. Thereby, included remains can be regarded as paleopopulations – a rare chance when working with fossils.

    We plan the following activities:


    The workshop at the Senckenberg Research Station of Quaternary Palaeontology (Weimar, Germany), entitled “Taxonomy and identification of Eurasian Pleistocene Ground Squirrels” and coordinated by Dr. L.C. Maul. The main aim is to facilitate expertise exchange in this field and to introduce young researchers in the approved and new methods for the identification of Spermophilus fossil remains. The workshop program will include a direct and first-hand demonstration of existing approaches to the identification of fossil ground squirrel species and hypotheses of their systematics and phylogeny. Besides, existing problems of species identification or any other unsolved issues within the workshop scopes will be open to discussion. Preliminary term is October-November 2016.

    Researchers interested in this venture should contact either of the project leaders: or


    The workshop “Populations in the non-optimal environment” (Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University, Chernivtsi, Ukraine, workshop coordinator Dr. Bogdan Ridush) will be focused on species extinction events and concomitant processes: hybridisation in animals and cultural interactions in humans’ prehistory; competitive exclusion and so on. Besides, there will be considered circumstances of terminal phases of human cultures and the role of the Carpathian Mountains as a refugium and a palaeogeographical barrier. All subgroups of our research team (archaeologists, palaeogeographers, palaeontologists and zoologists) will be involved.


    The year is expected to be devoted to a final matching between palaeobiogeographical / archaeological data on the one hand and their palaeogeographical interpretations, on the other hand. The preliminary title of the workshop is “Geographical barriers, expansion and speciation in the Quaternary of the Circum-Pontic area and surroundings”. An appropriate venue has still to be chosen.