Posts Tagged ‘spotted hyena extinction in Europe’

Spotted Hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) May Have Persisted in Europe until 7,000 BP

October 3, 2020

European climate might be more suitable for spotted hyenas than African climate, according to a 10 year old study published in Quaternary Science Review. Ironically, the spotted hyena is presently extinct in Europe and survives on the continent of Africa and nowhere else, except zoos. Hyenas thrived from Spain to the Ural Mountains for about 3 million years. Genetic evidence suggests hyenas from Africa invaded Europe in 3 waves: 3 million years ago, 1 million years ago, and again 300,000 years ago. The hyenas in Europe were a subspecies of the African hyena, given the scientific name Crocota crocota spelaea and are commonly known as the cave hyena, though most individuals never ventured into a cave. Their primary prey consisted of horse and bison, but their diet also included rhino, deer, ibex, bear, lion, wolf, and other hyenas. Some of these prey items were scavenged, but hyenas actively kill most of their food. European hyenas were on average 40% larger than African hyenas–evidence European climate and habitats were a more optimum environment for them. European female hyenas (for hyenas females are generally larger than males) weighed up to 225 pounds, while African hyenas weigh up to 140 pounds. Hyenas occurred in Europe during all climate phases of the Pleistocene, including interglacials, glacials, interstadials (warms ups during cold stages) and stadials (cool downs during warm stages). This suggests climate change alone can not explain their extinction in Europe. Competition with humans was likely the cause of their extinction there, though scientists believe hyenas succumbed to a combination of environmental change and competition with humans. I disagree with this notion because if humans are eliminated as a variable in the equation, hyenas would still occur in Europe. Thus, humans alone are the cause of their extinction. Hyenas persist in Africa because tropical diseases kept human populations low on large areas of that continent.

Cave hyena (Crocuta crocuta spelaea)

Image of Crocuta crocuta spelaea.

Fossil Presence of spotted hyenas in Europe from 126,000 years BP-21,000 years BP. Note how they still occurred in the middle of Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum (the white circles). Image from the below reference authored by Vareles et. al.

Scientists think hyenas went extinct in Europe about 11,000 years ago, but a new study touts evidence hyenas persisted in Spain until ~7,000 years ago. Some Spanish scientists studied hyena coprolites (fossil feces) found in 2 caves in Spain. The coprolites dated between 37,000 calendar years BP-7,000 calendar years BP. The authors of this study concede younger dated coprolites might have inaccurate dates due to contamination. However, the focus of their study was an analysis of pollen grains found in the hyena coprolites. Palynologists attempt to reconstruct past environments based on the composition of pollen grains, and they use them to estimate past climate. For example during cold dry climate phases pine and grass pollen predominates in samples, while moist warm climate phases show an increase in oak pollen. The pollen profile of the youngest dated coprolites are consistent with the floral composition of the early Holocene, so it seems likely the radio-carbon dates are accurate, and hyenas lived in Spain as recently as 7,000 years ago.

References:

Deidrich, L; and K. Zak

“Prey Deposits and Den Sites of the Upper Pleistocene Hyena Crocuta crocuta spelaea (Goldfuss 1923) in Hoorjostid and Ventral Caves of the Bohemian Karst (Czech Republic)”

Bulletin of Geoscience 84 (4) 2006

Ochard, J. et al

“Palynology and Chronology of Hyena Coprolites from the Pinur Karstic Caves Las Ventanas and Carihoula, Southern Spain”

Paleogeography, Paleoclimatalogy, and Paleoecology 552 August 2020

Vareles, S; J. Lobo, J. Rodriguez, and P. Baten

“Were the Late Pleistocene Climate Changes the Responsible for the Disappearance of the European Spotted Hyena Population? Hindcasting a Species Geographic Distribution over Time”

Quaternary Science Review 29 2010

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