Changes in the Iberian fauna reduced the availability of carrion a million years ago

In an article published in the magazine Paleogeography, paleoclimatology, paleoecologysuggest scientists from the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH). Carrion of large herbivores, a resource that was previously abundant and affordable Hominidsbecame tighter in the end Lower Pleistocene, due to changes in the Iberian fauna.

Hominids arrived on the Iberian Peninsula 1.4 million years ago and found a wide variety of food resources, including the carcasses of large herbivores, some of which were eaten by other predators.

Hominids arrived in the Iberian Peninsula 1.4 million years agowhere they found great diversity Food resourcesincluding a great abundance of Carcasses of large herbivores partially eaten by a variety of predators, among which two species of saber-toothed tigers stand out (Homotherium latidens And Megantereon Whitei).

They also found one in these ecosystems powerful rivalThe hyena giant (Pachycrocuta brevirostris).

However, as the authors – including Ana Mateos and Jesús Rodríguez of CENIEH – showed in an earlier paper, the richness of food and the diversity of ecosystems of the period made this possible Coexistence of hominids and hyenas Giants vying for carrion.

But about a million years ago there were important ones Climate change that restructured the ecosystems of all of Europe. On the Iberian Peninsula the fauna is of large mammals suffered the die out of several species, including the giant hyena and one of the saber-toothed tigers (Megantereon Whitei), which resulted in less disposal of carrion.

Virtual simulations

The researchers used a computational model that allows experiments to be carried out simulate He Hyena behavior And Hominids compete for carrion in a virtual environment.

Giant hyenas and hominids could coexist and compete for carrion before the saber-toothed tiger and other predators went extinct; After their disappearance, carrion became rarer

Each experiment represents a different ecological scenariodefined by the predator species present, the productivity of the ecosystem and the rivalry for carrion with other species such as: Vultures or small carnivores.

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“Before the extinction of the saber-toothed tiger, giant hyenas and hominids could have coexisted and competed for carrion. Megantereon and other predators, such as Wild dogs and pumas. After the disappearance of these predators, the Carrion became scarcer. “This coincides with the extinction of the giant hyena,” he explains. Ana Mateos.

According to the results of these analyses, the key factors that determined these changes in the availability of carrion were: low productivity of ecosystems during the very cold episodes of this timestrong competition with other scavengers other than the giant hyena and the likely social behavior of the other large saber-toothed tiger (H. latidens).

Greater flexibility in food procurement would have allowed hominids to survive and adapt to the new prevailing ecological conditions.

Jesús Rodríguez, co-author

Unlike hyenas, whose diet would rely solely on the carcasses of large herbivores, Hominids they would have one trophic behavior a lot more flexiblewhich can also explode Plant resources B. fruits, berries or roots, hunt small animals and even kill larger animals.

“This greater flexibility in getting food would have enabled them to survive and adapt to that new ecological conditions predominant after the changes in climate and fauna a million years ago,” he explains. Jesus Rodríguez.

In addition to CENIEH, Ericson Hoelzchen, scientist at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) at the University of Trier (Cognitive Social Simulation Lab), was involved in this article as part of the TROPHIc project.


Mateos, A., et al. “Saber-toothed tigers, giant hyenas and hominins: changes in the niche of early Pleistocene scavengers in Iberia at the Epivillafranchian-Galerian transition.” Paleogeography, paleoclimatology, paleoecology (2023)

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