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Cats in the forest: predicting habitat adaptations from humerus morphometry in extant and fossil Felidae (Carnivora)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 March 2013

Carlo Meloro*
Hull York Medical School, University of Hull, Loxley Building, Cottingham Road Hull HU6 7RX, UK
Sarah Elton
Hull York Medical School, University of Hull, Loxley Building, Cottingham Road Hull HU6 7RX, UK
Julien Louys
Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology, School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Byrom Street, Liverpool L3 3AF, U.K.
Laura C. Bishop
Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology, School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Byrom Street, Liverpool L3 3AF, U.K.
Peter Ditchfield
Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, Dyson Perrins Building, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, U.K.
Corresponding author. Present address: Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Universitá degli Studi di Napoli, Federico II, Naples, Italy. E-mail:


Mammalian carnivores are rarely incorporated in paleoenvironmental reconstructions, largely because of their rarity within the fossil record. However, multivariate statistical modeling can be successfully used to quantify specific anatomical features as environmental predictors. Here we explore morphological variability of the humerus in a closely related group of predators (Felidae) to investigate the relationship between morphometric descriptors and habitat categories. We analyze linear measurements of the humerus in three different morphometric combinations (log-transformed, size-free, and ratio), and explore four distinct ways of categorizing habitat adaptations. Open, Mixed, and Closed categories are defined according to criteria based on traditional descriptions of species, distributions, and biome occupancy. Extensive exploratory work is presented using linear discriminant analyses and several fossils are included to provide paleoecological reconstructions.

We found no significant differences in the predictive power of distinct morphometric descriptors or habitat criteria, although sample splitting into small and large cat guilds greatly improves the stability of the models. Significant insights emerge for three long-canine cats: Smilodon populator, Paramachairodus orientalis, and Dinofelis sp. from Olduvai Gorge (East Africa). S. populator and P. orientalis are both predicted to have been closed-habitat adapted taxa. The false “sabertooth” Dinofelis sp. from Olduvai Gorge is predicted to be adapted to mixed habitat. The application of felid humerus ecomorphology to the carnivoran record of Olduvai Gorge shows that the older stratigraphic levels (Bed I, 1.99–1.79 Ma) included a broader range of environments than Beds II or V, where there is an abundance of cats adapted to open environments.

Copyright © The Paleontological Society 

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