Nav: Home

African lions face same threats as extinct Ice Age ancestors

May 10, 2017

Newly published in the journal Ecography, the study shows that the wildlife that went extinct during the period, including the sabre-toothed cat, cave and American lions and the American cheetah, lost the greatest proportion of their prey. Big cats today face the same challenges and food shortages as their ancestors and without immediate action, the same fate could likely be inevitable.

Led by scientists from the Universities of Sussex, Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), Aarhus and Goteborg, the team assessed several Ice Age extinction factors and whether they could be applied to big cat species populations today. Using a new global database of felid diets called FelidDiet, the team uncovered the cause of extinction of several Ice Age giants. The findings show that if these animals were alive today, on average, just 25% of their preferred prey still remain in the natural world, with the majority now extinct, partly due to human interference. The team believe this devastating loss of prey species was a major contributing factor to the extinction of these animals.

Addressing the question of what impact similar prey declines in natural big cat ranges would have today, the research has revealed that only 39% of the African lion's prey and 37% of the Sunda clouded leopard's would remain.

The paper ends with a grave warning that if this prey loss trend continues all affected species will face 'a high risk of extinction.'

Dr Chris Sandom, who conceived the study at Oxford's WildCRU, before joining the University of Sussex, said: 'Our research clearly shows that if primary big cat prey continues to decline at such a rate then big cats, including lion, tiger, leopard and cheetah, are at risk.

'Where prey species have, or are likely to become extinct, this poses a serious risk to the big cat species which feed on them and we now know this is the continuation of an unhappy trend which began during the last Ice Age. We need to buck this Ice Age trend once and for all and to reinforce the urgent need for governments to protect both big cat species and their prey.'

Professor David Macdonald, Director of the WildCRU unit, said: 'the fairytale consequences of Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard being bare are all too vividly real for modern big cats. Our study of the consequences of prey loss - 'defaunation' in the jargon - is about, in everyday language "what if" or perhaps better "if only": without the extinctions of the Pleistocene, in which the fingerprints of humanity are all too incriminating, there would have been between one and five more felid species in most places today'. He added, 'The Churchillian aphorism that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it was painfully in mind when we saw how many of the prey of lions and in East Africa and of clouded leopards in Indo-Malaya look set to go down the same drain which their counterparts in other regions have already been flushed.'

Dr Dawn Burnham, another WildCRU co-author, added: 'NIMBYISM has taken its toll on our own part of the world where today only the Eurasian lynx represents biggish cats in Western Europe, our calculations suggest there would have been at least three more large felids had the prey species survived to sustain them'.
-end-
The study entitled: "Learning from the past to prepare for the future: Felids face continued threat from declining prey richness" has been published in the journal Ecography and can be found here.

This project was conceived by Dr Chris Sandom while at WildCRU, and grew out of a collaboration between Professor David Macdonald and Professor Kathy Willis which was originally funded by the Oxford Martin School.

For interviews or supporting images please contact: Lanisha Butterfield, Media Relations Manager on 01865 280531 or lanisha.butterfield@admin.ox.ac.uk

About WildCRU

David Macdonald founded the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) in 1986 at the University of Oxford. Now the foremost University-based centre for biodiversity conservation, the mission of the WildCRU is to achieve practical solutions to conservation problems through original research. WildCRU is renowned for its specialisation in wild carnivores, especially wild cats, for its long-running studies on lion and clouded leopard, and for its training centre, where early-career conservationists, so far from 32 countries, are trained by experts to become leaders in conservation, resulting in a global community of highly skilled and collaborative conservationists. Visit wildcru.org

The Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division (MPLS) is one of four academic divisions at the University of Oxford, representing the non-medical sciences. Oxford is one of the world's leading universities for science, and MPLS is at the forefront of scientific research across a wide range of disciplines. Research in the mathematical, physical and life sciences at Oxford was rated the best in the UK in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment. MPLS received £133m in research income in 2014/15.

University of Oxford

Related Ice Age Articles:

What causes an ice age to end?
Research by an international team helps to resolve some of the mystery of why ice ages end by establishing when they end.
New study results consistent with dog domestication during ice age
Analysis of Paleolithic-era teeth from a 28,500-year-old fossil site in the Czech Republic provides supporting evidence for two groups of canids -- one dog-like and the other wolf-like - with differing diets, which is consistent with the early domestication of dogs.
Did an extraterrestrial impact trigger the extinction of ice-age animals?
Based on research at White Pond near Elgin, South Carolina, University of South Carolina archaeologist Christopher Moore and 16 colleagues present new evidence of a controversial theory that suggests an extraterrestrial body crashing to Earth almost 13,000 years ago caused the extinction of many large animals and a probable population decline in early humans.
Dust in ice cores leads to new knowledge on the advancement of the ice before the ice age
Working with the ice core ReCap, drilled close to the coast in East Greenland, postdoc Marius Simonsen wondered why the dust particles from the interglacial period -- the warmer period of time between the ice ages -- were several times bigger than the dust particles from the ice age.
Ice-sheet variability during the last ice age from the perspective of marine sediment
By using marine sediment cores from Northwestern Australia, a Japanese team led by National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) and the University of Tokyo revealed that the global ice sheet during the last ice age had changed in shorter time scale than previously thought.
What triggered the 100,000-year Ice Age cycle?
A slowing of ocean circulation in the waters surrounding Antarctica drastically altered the strength and more than doubled the length of global ice ages following the mid-Pleistocene transition, a new study finds.
WVU researcher unearths an ice age in the African desert
A field trip to Namibia to study volcanic rocks led to an unexpected discovery by West Virginia University geologists Graham Andrews and Sarah Brown.
Scientists revealed how water fleas settled during the Ice Age
A new study shows that the roots used by three close species of microscopic Daphnia crustaceans to settle across the territory of Northern Eurasia differed greatly.
'True polar wander' may have caused ice age
Earth's latest ice age may have been caused by changes deep inside the planet.
Ice-age climate clues unearthed
A Rice University scientist leads an effort to improve climate models using paleoclimate proxies, indicators like chemical compounds in plants and microorganisms preserved in ancient lake sediments that hold rich data about past climate conditions on Earth.
More Ice Age News and Ice Age Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.