Posts Tagged ‘fallow deer’

Pleistocene Mammals of the Levant

January 14, 2017

Long before the stories in the bible supposedly took place, the Levant was a beautiful wilderness sparsely populated by humans.  The Levant is the region encompassing the modern day boundaries of Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq.  For millions of years climatic fluctuations have caused a waxing and waning of 2 different types of environments here–Mediterranean evergreen oak woodlands and Irano-Turanan steppe consisting of deciduous oak trees and grassy understories.  Habitat for both forest species and grassland fauna has been available during every climatic stage.  The region is also a gateway between Eurasia and Africa, so animals from 3 continents converge here, making it rich in diversity.  African species such as elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, gazelles, hartebeest, warthog, macaque, hyena, lion, leopard, cheetah, and Cape Hunting dog formerly lived side by side with Eurasian species including aurochs, bison, horse, ass, camel, deer, wild boar, ibex, wolf, and brown bear.

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Map of the Levant.

The fossil record suggests the fallow deer ( Dama dama ) was the most common large herbivore in the Levant for over 2 million years.  This species prefers fairly dense woodlands, so their abundance in the fossil record surprises me because I always think of this region as arid.  However, during Ice Ages, the climate in the Levant was cooler and rainier than it is today, though drier climate phases did occur cyclically.  The extinct giant deer ( Megaloceros giganteus ) and elk ( Cervus sp. ), known as red deer in Europe, also made the Levant their home.  The wild ibex ( Capra aegargus ), ancestor of the domestic goat ( C. hircus ), was common on rocky hillsides; gazelles, hartebeest, and an extinct species of warthog roamed the grassy plains.

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Fallow deer.

During warmer climate cycles hippos inhabited Lake Kinnaret.  Long chains of lakes often existed along the Jordan River, and during some climatic stages Lake Kinnaret joined the extinct Lake Amora and the Dead Sea to become 1 giant primeval lake known as Lake Lisan.  Oddly enough, geologists believe Lake Lisan was a freshwater lake in the part that covered the current site of Lake Kinnaret, while the rest of the lake was salty.

A primitive genera of elephants known as stegodon became extinct in Africa about 1 million years ago, but they still lived in the Levant for hundreds of thousands of years past their African extinction.  Stegodon survived until the end of the Pleistocene in southeastern Asia.  Two species of elephants roamed the Levant during the Late Pleistocene–the steppe mammoth ( Mammuthus trogontherii ) and the straight-tusked elephant ( Paleoloxodon antiquus ).  The former evolved into the woolly mammoth during a later Ice Age.  Straight-tusked elephants were a temperate species that couldn’t survive the climate deterioration of the last Ice Age in most of Eurasia.  However, the Levant probably provided a refuge for this species then.  I hypothesize humans overhunted straight-tusked elephants to extinction in their final refugia.  And I believe the same fate befell the temperate species of rhino ( Stephanorhinus hemiotoechus ) that occurred throughout Eurasia.  The Levant likely served as a refuge for these 2 species of megafauna during previous glacials, but human populations and/or hunting skills increased enough to permanently eliminate these slow breeding animals sometime within the timespan of the most recent Ice Age.

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Stegodon.

The lion ( Panthera leo ) that lived in the Levant was the same subspecies as the Asiatic lion found today in 1 small area of India–the Gir Forest.  This big cat survived in remote regions of the Levant until the 19th century.  There is still a small population of leopards in the Levant.  Two species of wolves ranged through the Levant–the timber wolf ( Canis lupus ) and the Egyptian wolf ( C. lupaster ).   Though the latter species occasionally interbreeds with golden jackals ( C. aureus ), a genetic study determined they are more closely related to C. lupusA single specimen of Cape Hunting dog ( Lycaon pictus ) was excavated from Hayonim Cave, Israel.  The paper written about this site incorrectly states this as the only fossil material of Cape Hunting dog ever found outside Africa, but fossils of closely related species have been discovered in Alaska and Texas.

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Asiatic lions in Gir Forest–the same subspecies lived in the Levant until the 19th century.

Pleistocene megafauna suffered fewer extinctions in the Levant than in the Americas.  Wildlife there co-occurred for a longer time with low populations of primitive humans and had time to evolve better avoidance strategies.  Moreover, many Levant species that did become extinct in the wild still live on as domesticated descendents.  Nevertheless, most of the megafauna species were extirpated from the Levant by the 20th century.

References:

Marder, Ofer; et. al.

“Mammal Remains of Rantis Cave, Israel and mid to late Pleistocene Paleoenvironment and Subsistence in the Levant”

Journal of Quaternary Science 2011

Stimer, Mary; and Ofer Bar-Yozef

“The Fauna of Hayonim Cave, Israel: A 200,000 Year Record of Paleolithic”

American School of Prehistoric Research 48 2009

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Exciting New Vertebrate Faunas in Georgia and Florida

July 18, 2015

North America suffered a devastating loss of vertebrate diversity about 10,000 years ago when men overhunted the most impressive species on the continent to extinction.  So it’s ironic that man is now the agent adding species to North America’s fauna by transporting them from other continents.  The new arrivals that survive are often the species most difficult for man to eradicate, unlike the maladapted Pleistocene megafauna.  Silly alarmists refer to these species as invasive (as if man himself was not invasive and belongs everywhere).  Most are beneficial additions that increase diversity to an environment left impoverished by the end Pleistocene extinction and the activities of industrial age man.  I’m rooting for the “invaders” and against wildlife officials attempting exterminate the newcomers.

The walking catfish (Claria batrachus) is an amazing import from Indonesia. It has been slithering around Florida since the 1960s, and fishermen have begun catching them in the Flint River, Georgia.  It lives in mud puddles, flooded roadside ditches, and other ephemeral bodies of water; and accordingly does not compete with native fishes.  Studies show it takes fewer tadpoles than native mosquito fish and does not pose an undue threat to amphibians.  They have the ability to wriggle across the ground and seek bodies of water when their puddle dries up, making them well adapted to Florida’s fluctuating water levels.

Walking Catfish (Clarias batrachus) make their way across land to spawn in small rainpools Stock Photo

The walking catfish is well adapted to environments with fluctuating water levels.

The Nile tilapia (Oreochronis niloticus) is a native of Africa.  They’ve lived in the lower Chattahoochee River, Lake Seminole, and the Apalachicola River since 1991.  Though they inhabit shallow water, studies show they don’t compete with native fish in the wild.  Tilapia is by far the best tasting and most reliable fish sold in the supermarket.  Wild tilapia has dark meat.  Farmed tilapia have been bred to have white meat because it is visibly more appealing.

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Nile tilapia.  Disjunct populations of this species live throughout the southeast.  This is by far the best tasting and most reliable fish in the supermarket.

The black and white tegu (Salvator merianae) is a South American lizard that can grow up to 4 feet long.  This recent escapee has established scattered populations from north Florida to Miami.  They eat alligator and turtle eggs.  There is an overpopulation of alligators and turtles in Florida, so wildlife managers should be thrilled.  Instead, they want to eradicate them.  Black bears were abundant in Florida until late in the 19th century and were formerly a major consumer of alligator and turtle eggs.  Tegus are merely occupying a niche left vacant by the extirpation of black bears.  Along with Nile monitor lizards, another recent colonizer of Florida’s wilds, they are providing a much needed predator in the local ecosystem.

Tegu in Florida

Black and white tegus.  These beneficial predators could help reduce the overpopulation of alligators and turtles in Florida.  The Florida Wildlife Commission asks people to report where these lizards are.  Do not report sightings.  Those redneck assholes at the FWC will just come out and kill them.

The spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) is a South American crocodilian that’s been living in southeast Florida since the 1960s.  They are intolerant of cold and can’t expand their range north.  They’re smaller than alligators had have been unable to displace them.

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Spectacled caimans now live in southeast Florida.  Cool!

The monk parakeet (Miopsitta monachus) is another native of South America.  This colorful bird has established colonies in New York City, Chicago, Miami, and parks in other cities.  They build huge stick nests that are used by many other species of birds.  Park officials like them because they drive away city pigeons.  Pigeon dung is difficult and costly to remove from statues.  The monk parakeet is an obvious aesthetic replacement for the extinct Carolina parakeet.

Monk parakeet nest in Miami, Florida.  They also live as far north as Chicago and New York City.  Other species of birds use their nests.  Monk parakeets drive away city pigeons.

Fallow deer (Dama dama) are native to Eurasia.  Hunters introduced them to south Georgia early in the 20th century.  This deer varies in color from brownish-red with spots to pure white.  The white individuals are not albino.  They’re raised on ranches and some have escaped, and wild herds live on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia.

Fallow deer on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia.  The white variety is common.

Two-hundred ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), a native of Madagascar, roam St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia.  The island serves as an emergency refuge in case they ever become extinct in their native land.  Wildlife officials supplement their diet because the island might not provide enough natural foods.  This is not a problem for the 3 non-native species of primate that have successfully established breeding populations in Florida–rhesus macaques, vervet monkeys, and spider monkeys.

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Ring-tailed lemurs at the North Georgia Zoo.  A semi-wild population of 200 lives on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia.  They’re kept there in case the population on Madagascar becomes extinct.