New computer models have allowed scientists to calculate how ancient super-predators were able to kill huge preys, far larger than the ones we know today, such as mammoths and mastodons.
These computer models have proved which hunting strategies were used more than a million years ago by ancient hypercarnivores. By using the models, researchers determined that a cave hyena or a saber-toothed cat could have hunted down prey that weighed almost 18 times their own size. Nevertheless, investigators believe that, in packs, these daring creatures were able to demolish a 9-year-old mastodon who weighed a hefty 2 tons. This helped keep the populations of giant herbivores in check.
Blaire Van Valkenburgh, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of the study confirmed, “The probable role these large predators played in maintaining stable ecosystems hasn’t been recognized until now.”
The study proved how ancient super-predators that were much larger than modern wolves, lions and hyenas not only preyed on small herbivores but on mega mammals such as mammoths, mastodons, and giant ground sloths as well.
Herbivores don’t sound like a threatening creature, but these giants are well known for devastating ecosystems by stripping them of vegetation through overgrazing and overbrowsing and back then a more diversified herd of megaherbivores lived on Earth.
In order to conclude the influences of these creatures, investigators analyzed fossils records. Scientists were able to develop estimates of the animal’s size based on previous studies but by analyzing the fossils, they were able to study the complete teeth structure which allowed them to come up with new supposed hunting strategies.
The next step was to determine the size ranges of Pleistocene era hypercarnivores. Mathematical formulas were developed by relating the shoulder height of fossils with the body mass on modern captive elephants. They discovered that, on average, hypercarnivores weighed between 211 to 297 lbs, double to modern hypercarnivores whose weight varies from 116 to 138 lbs.
“Scientists didn’t really understand how much bigger some of these Pleistocene predators were than modern ones,” Van Valkenburgh told Live Science.
These findings showed how past hypercarnivores would have been feared by most juvenile mastodons and mammoths, especially when carnivores were in packs. Further studies need to be conducted in order to understand Pleistocene ecosystems completely.
Van Valkenburgh added, “By understanding what we lost, what the productivity of the planet was, we can learn more about the time in which our species evolved and maybe why we’ve done so well.”
Source: CBS News