Paleontologists are using extinct predators’ fossilized fangs to understand how they shared their habitat during the late Miocene Period.
A Spanish-U.S. research team compared the tooth enamel of three species that inhabited a wooded area with grassland patches: two cats—the leopard-sized Promegantereon ogygia and lion-sized Machairodus aphanistus—and the bear dog, which had a bear-like body but teeth like a dog.
“These three animals were sympatric—they inhabited the same geographic area at the same time,” said study first author Soledad Domingo at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology in a press release.
“What they did to coexist was to avoid each other and partition the resources.”
The researchers compared the ratio of carbon-12 and -13 isotopes in the teeth, which originated from plants eaten by herbivores and passed through the food chain to carnivores.
“This would be the same in your tooth enamel today,” Domingo explained. “If we sampled them, we could have an idea of what you eat. It’s a signature that remains through time.”
Both cats ate horses and wild boar, but the smaller ones may have used tree cover to avoid the larger ones, while the bear dogs hunted antelope in more open areas.
“The three largest mammalian predators captured prey in different portions of the habitat, as do coexisting large predators today,” said study co-author Catherine Badgley in the release.
“So even though none of the species in this 9-million-year-old ecosystem are still alive today (some of their descendants are), we found evidence for similar ecological interactions as in modern ecosystems.”
The study was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Nov. 7.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.