Aim: We hypothesize that the northern and southern edges of Neanderthals distribution during the Last Interglacial were respectively limited by low winter temperatures, and high temperatures and lack of rainfall during the summer, while high topographic diversity combined with moderate slopes favored presence at the local scale.
Location: Europe (20ºN to 70ºN, 10ºW to 70ºE).
Methods: We used Neanderthal presence, palaeoclimatic, and topographic data to calibrate a species distribution model. We analyzed variable importance at the continental scale with Randon Forest, and at the local scale with local regression and recursive partition trees.
Results: Highest habitat suitability was observed along the Mediterranean coast. Main mountain ranges and continental plains showed low habitat suitability values. Extreme seasonal temperatures and annual rainfall were the most important predictors at the continental scale, while topography defined habitat suitability at the local scale.
Main conclusions: Our results challenge the notion of Neanderthals as a central European species. Therefore, many current interpretations of Neanderthal livelihood during the Last Interglacial may not accurately represent this species preferred habitat.
Keywords: palaeo-species distribution modeling, hominins, habitat suitability, ecological niche