Press release Cave lions were solitary hunters and had a preference for reindeer meat The analysis of isotopes gives us evidence, how extinct species of the last Ice Age lived
Tübingen, October 11th, 25.10.2011 12,000 years ago, cave lions hunted preferentially alone – and mostly reindeer: This is the conclusion of the working group of Prof. Hervé Bocherens from the department of Geosciences at the university of Tübingen. This research yields new data on the way of life of extinct cave lions. Using the abundance of carbon and nitrogen isotopes (13C, 15N) in bone collagen of predators, it is possible to get direct information about their diet. Until around 12,000 years ago, a large spectrum of possible prey were available to the large felines, among others mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison, horse and reindeer. These prey had to be shared with competitors such as cave hyena, brown bears, wolves and of course prehistoric humans. Interestingly the researchers found in the cave lions from south-western Germany, northern Switzerland, northern France and southern Belgium very different isotopic composition, in contrast with the coeval hyenas which lived in packs and have very similar isotopic compositions. These results show, according to the researchers, that cave lions were solitary hunters and did not hunt in prides, as modern African lions do. By analogy with the modern spectrum of prey available to lions in Africa, it was supposed that horse and bison were the main prey of the cave lions. Actually reindeer was the main item on the menu of cave lions, in proportions much higher than for their competitors. Some of the lions did also probably eat young cave bears. The preference for reindeer did last until the end of the Ice Age: the local extinction of this cold-adapted animal during the global warming of around 12,000 years ago could well be involved in the extinction of the European cave lions.
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Publication: The results were published in the journal Quaternary International are available online as in press: Bocherens, H., Drucker, D.G., Bonjean, D., Bridault, A., Conard, N.J., Cupillard, C., Germonpré, M., Höneisen, M., Münzel, S.C., Napierrala, H., Patou-Mathis, M., Stephan, E., Uerpmann, H.-P., Ziegler, R. in press. Isotopic evidence for dietary ecology of cave lion (Panthera spelaea) in North-western Europe: prey choice, competition and implications for extinction. Quaternary International DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2011.02.023).
Contact: Prof. Dr. Hervé Bocherens University of Tübingen Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät Paläobiologie (Biogeologie) Hölderlinstrasse 12 · 72074 Tübingen Tel: +49 07071 29-76988 [email protected]
Foot-bones of a cave lion (ca. 35.000 years old, left) and a modern lion (right). Photo: Wolfgang Gerber, Universität Tübingen
Prof. Hervé Bocherens with skull of a modern lion. Photo: Wolfgang Gerber, Universität Tübingen
Ivory-sculpture of a cave lion, ca. 35.000 years old. Photo: Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte und Archäologie des Mittelalters, Universität Tübingen