Co-existence of scimitar-toothed cats, lions and hominins in the European Pleistocene. Implications of the post-cranial anatomy of Homotherium latidens (Owen) for comparative palaeoecology
Human occupants of Europe shared food resources with a number of larger Carnivora, and their coexistence with two lion-sized felids, the lion and the scimitar-toothed machairodont Homotherium latidens, poses intriguing paleoecological problems. We investigate the ecology of Homotherium latidens using an exceptional sample of postcrania from the Spanish Early Pleistocene site of Incarcal, making comparisons with modern cats and with other machairodont species. Evidence of cursorial adaptations in Homotherium suggests a hunting technique different from modern cats or smilodontine sabre-tooths. Some, like reduction of the claws, would have limited the ability of individual homotheres to bring down large prey, implying group action. Homotherium would also have been disadvantaged in direct confrontation with Pleistocene lions by smaller body mass, reduced forepaw muscle strength, smaller claws and more fragile dentition. Its hunting technique would have worked best in more open habitats, but competition from lions would have forced it to seek moderate cover. Among factors that could de-stabilise coexistence of the two big cat species in Pleistocene Europe we invoke a decrease in environmental mosaicism associated with stepped climatic change over the last million years, and the increased importance of humans within the larger predator guild.