Wild cats had a negative impact on ancient dog species

 Above is one of the fossils canids reviewed in the study.

Are cats more skilled at getting what they want than dogs? A new study suggests that at least in ancient times, that may have been true.

Researchers from the Universities of Gothenburg (Sweden), São Paulo (Brazil) and Lausanne (Switzerland) studied over 2000 North American fossils and concluded that felids (wild cats) who migrated from Asia into North America spelled doom on the diversity of the dog family. They contributed to the extinction of up to 40 dog species.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on May 30.

“We usually expect climate changes to play an overwhelming role in the evolution of biodiversity. Instead, competition among different carnivore species proved to be even more important for canids,” said Daniele Silvestro, PhD, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, and lead author of the study.

The survival of carnivorous animals is linked to the ability to obtain food. With limited prey in a geographic area, competition for that prey, logically, increases. 

The dog family, which originated in North America 40 million years ago, reached maximum diversity (30 species) about 22 million years ago. Today, there are only nine species of the dog family living in North America.

While felids impacted ancient dogs, the researchers did not find the reverse to be true, suggesting that felids may have been more skilled predators.

Photo courtesy of University of Gothenburg, © 2015 Michele Silvestro

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