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article imageScientists find out why spotted hyena vanished from Europe

By Subir Ghosh     Sep 23, 2010 in Environment
Climate change in the past was not directly responsible for the extinction of the spotted hyena in southern Europe, but it was certainly a factor in its disappearance, scientists have concurred.
A team from the National Museum of Natural Sciences (CSIC) led by Sara Varela analysed the impact of climate change on spotted hyena survival in Europe 10,000 years ago. Climate change played an important role, but Varela and her team say studies are still needed to look at the influence of human expansion and changes in herbivorous fauna on the definitive extinction of this species across the continent.
At that time, the European climate was undergoing "drastic" changes, as were herbivorous fauna populations and human expansion. "The survival of the hyenas could have been affected by the combination of these three factors acting in synergy, but not by the action of the climate alone," the CSIC scientist said. The CSIC is based in Madrid, Spain.
The CSIC team studied climate change in the past and identified the most favourable areas for the spotted hyena in Europe, using modelling to look at the various climate scenarios of the Pleistocene age. A second model estimated the severity of climate conditions for the survival of these animals. "The climatic conditions in the south of Europe were at all times within the tolerance range of this species," Varela contended.
The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) became extinct at the end of the late Pleistocene (around 10,000 years ago) age, coinciding with the last glacial maximum and the expansion of Homo sapiens. Many species disappeared forever, but the spotted hyena held out for a while and modified its geographical range in order to survive.
The largest known spotted hyena populations occur in the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania (where they...
The largest known spotted hyena populations occur in the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania (where they number 7,200-7,700), Kruger National Park in South Africa (1,300-3,900) and the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya (ca 500-1,000).
Tarique Sani
The spotted hyena, also known as laughing hyena, is a carnivorous mammal of the family Hyaenidae, of which it is the largest extant member. Though the species' prehistoric range included Eurasia extending from Atlantic Europe to China, it is now found only in all of Africa south of the Sahara save for the Congo Basin.
Ancestors of the spotted hyena branched off from the true hyenas (striped and brown hyenas) during the Pliocene era, 5.332 million to 1.806 million years ago. According to fossil records, the species evolved in the Indian subcontinent. Spotted hyenas colonised the Middle East, Africa and the Ice Age plains of Eurasia extending from Atlantic Europe to China where a large subspecies known as the "cave hyena" developed as an evolutionary response to cold climate.
More about Spotted hyena, Europe, Crocuta crocuta, Extinct
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