Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Forelimb bone data predicts predator style

Date:
June 30, 2014
Source:
Brown University
Summary:
In their quest to understand what kind of hunter the extinct marsupial Thylacine was, two paleobiologists built a dataset of forelimb bone measurements that predict the predation style of a wide variety of carnivorous mammals.

Brown University researchers have devised a dataset of forelimb bone measurements that can be used to classify the hunting style of mammalian predators. The now-extinct thylacine (front), shown juxtaposed with its still extant Australian rival the dingo, had forelimb anatomy that was curiously unspecialized for any particular hunting style.
Credit: Image courtesy of Carl Buell

In their quest to understand what kind of hunter the extinct marsupial thylacine was, two paleobiologists built a dataset of forelimb bone measurements that predict the predation style of a wide variety of carnivorous mammals. They describe the data in a study posted online in the Journal of Morphology.

At the start of their research, paleobiologists Christine Janis and Borja Figueirido simply wanted to determine the hunting style of an extinct marsupial called thylacine (also known as the "marsupial wolf" or the "Tasmanian tiger"). In the end, the Australian relic, which has a very dog-like head but both cat- and dog-like features in the skeleton, proved to be uniquely unspecialized, but what emerged from the effort is a new classification system that can capably predict the hunting behaviors of mammals from measurements of just a few forelimb bones.

"We realized what we are also doing was providing a dataset or a framework whereby people could look at extinct animals because it provides a good categorization of extant forms," said Janis, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University, and co-author of a paper describing the framework in the Journal of Morphology.

For example, the scapulas (shoulder blades) of leopards (ambush predators who grapple with rather than chase their prey) and those of cheetahs (pursuit predators who chase their prey over a longer distance) measure very differently. So do their radius (forearm) bones. The shapes of the bones, including areas where muscles attach, place the cheetahs with other animals that evolved for chasing (mainly dogs), and the leopards with others that evolved for grappling (mostly other big cats).

"The main differences in the forelimbs really reflect adaptations for strength versus adaptations for speed," Janis said.

In plots of the data in the paper, cheetahs and African hunting dogs appear to be brethren by their scapular proportions even though one is a cat and one is a dog. But the similar scapulas don't lie: both species are acknowledged by zoologists to be pursuit predators.

In all, Janis and Figueirido of the Universidad de Malaga in Spain made 44 measurements on five forelimb bones in 62 specimens of 37 species ranging from the Arctic fox to the thylacine. In various analyses the data proved helpful in sorting out the behaviors of the bones' owners. Given measurements from all of the forelimb bones of an animal, for example, they could accurately separate ambush predators from pursuit predators 100 percent of the time and ambush predators from pouncing predators 95 percent of the time. Results were similar for analyses based on the humerus (upper arm bone). They were always able to make correct classifications between the three predator styles more than 70 percent of the time, even with just one kind of bone.

The elusive thylacine

The thylacine has not been known on mainland Australia in recorded human history, and by official accounts it disappeared from the Australian island of Tasmania by 1936 (although some locals still believe they may be around). In a similar vein, the beasts evaded Janis and Figueirido's attempts at a neat classification of their mode of carnivory. By some bones they were ambushers. By others they were pursuers. In the end, they weren't anything but thylacines.

Janis notes that they could do just fine as generalists, given their relative lack of competition. Historically Australia has hosted less predator diversity than the Serengeti, for example.

"If you are one the few predators in the ecosystem, there's not a lot of pressure to be specialized," she said.

In the thylacine's case the evidence from forelimb bone measurements supports their somewhat unusual status as generalists by the standards of other predatory mammals. For other extinct predators, the framework will support other conclusions based on these same standards.

"One thing you tend to see is that people want to make extinct animals like living ones, so if something has a wolf-like head with a long snout as does the thylacine, although its skull is more delicate than that of a wolf, then people want to make it into a wolf-like runner," she said. "But very few extinct animals actually are as specialized as modern-day pursuit predators. People reconstruct things in the image of the familiar, which may not reflect reality."

Janis said she hopes the framework will provide fellow paleobiologists with an empirical basis for guiding those determinations.

The Bushnell Foundation supported the study with a research and teaching grant. The Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and Australia's Museum Victoria and Queensland Museum provided access to specimens for measurement.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Brown University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Christine M. Janis, Borja Figueirido. Forelimb anatomy and the discrimination of the predatory behavior of carnivorous mammals: The thylacine as a case study. Journal of Morphology, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/jmor.20303

Cite This Page:

Brown University. "Forelimb bone data predicts predator style." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140630124417.htm>.
Brown University. (2014, June 30). Forelimb bone data predicts predator style. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140630124417.htm
Brown University. "Forelimb bone data predicts predator style." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140630124417.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Boy Attacked by Shark in Florida

Reuters - US Online Video (July 24, 2014) An 8-year-old boy is bitten in the leg by a shark while vacationing at a Florida beach. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Newsy (July 23, 2014) A U.C. San Diego researcher says jealousy isn't just a human trait, and dogs aren't the best at sharing the attention of humans with other dogs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Newsy (July 23, 2014) ​It's called I Know Where Your Cat Lives, and you can keep hitting the "Random Cat" button to find more real cats all over the world. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins