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Locomotor diversity within past and present guilds of large predatory mammals

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 February 2016

Blaire Van Valkenburgh*
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218


The impact of environment, interspecific competition, and, to a lesser extent history, on the structure of the guild of large predatory mammals is explored in one fossil and four Recent communities. Two aspects are emphasized: (1) the number of species within each guild and (2) the extent of locomotor convergence as inferred from morphology among the constituent species. Locomotor behavior reflects habitat choice, hunting mode, and escape strategy, all of which appear to be important avenues of adaptive divergence among coexisting predators.

Locomotor behavior in extinct and extant predators is determined from body weight and five measured characteristics of the postcranial skeleton, including ungual shape, elbow shape, and limb proportions. Results indicate that levels of morphologic and inferred ecologic similarity between large predators are higher in the tropical grassland guild of East Africa than in the equivalent guilds of either tropical or temperate forest. This may be due to the great density and diversity of terrestrial herbivores in the productive grasslands. The fossil guild, from the Late Chadron–Orellan (Oligocene) of North America, appears most similar to the tropical forest guilds, but the predators seem to have been slower and more robust than their modern counterparts. Since the Orellan represents an early stage in the evolution of large, fissiped carnivores, both ancestry and time could have influenced Orellan guild structure.

Research Article
Copyright © The Paleontological Society 

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