in Pleistocene, while keeping the ecosystem in check.
The super-fast, super-prey animals of the Pleistocene are quite known. The cave hyena or the spotted hyena, as well as lions and the fierce saber-toothed cat would have been able to prey on mammoths, mastodons or the giant ground sloth. These mega-herbivores were considered until recently almost untouchable.
Due to their impressive size, they wouldn’t be quite the choice of the ancient super predators. Although their sizes were also impressive, a force showdown would have probably put the hyper-carnivores to shame.
That is not where the game ends. According to the findings of the study led by evolutionary biologist Blaire Van Valkenburgh, hyper-carnivores were in fact able to hunt down prey that superseded their own size by a lot. Much like lions prey on elephants nowadays, the cave hyena would have been able to hunt a one-ton, five-year old mastodon. Organized in packs, these super predators would have hunted down a two-ton, nine-year old mastodon. Imagine the violent battles!
The role hyper-predators played in shaping the Pleistocene landscape was analyzed using data collected from 50,000 kills observed in the wild nowadays, with relatives of the ancient animals. In addition, the relation between the shoulder height of said animals and their age, as well as body mass was taken into account. Teeth are always key to such analyses. Thus, fossilized teeth of the predators were used to observe the tooth size-body mass ratio.
One giveaway: the ancestor of today’s hyenas, African lions or tigers were 50 to 100 percent more massive. The exciting findings of the UCLA study suggest that hyper-carnivores hunted mega-herbivores in Pleistocene, while keeping the ecosystem in check.
As saber-toothed cats were hunting mastodons for food, they would help preserve the ecosystem. For their size, mammoth and mastodons would have grazed and fed on vegetation in large amounts. Smaller herbivores in their environment would presumably be underfed.
At the same time, smaller carnivores than the cave hyena or saber-toothed cat would have had carcasses to feed on, much like it happens today as well.
The findings of the study are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
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