Were the Late Pleistocene climatic changes responsible for the disappearance of the European spotted hyena populations? Hindcasting a species geographic distribution across time
This article examines the role of the Late Pleistocene climatic changes in the disappearance of the European populations of spotted hyenas. A species distribution model was built using both current and past environmental requirements of the species. Model projections were made with climatic scenarios provided by the GENESIS 2.0 General Circulation Model (126 ka, 42 ka, 30 ka and 21 ka). Those projections indicate (1) that during the Late Pleistocene warm scenarios spotted hyenas should have been widespread in Europe, and (2) that during the last glacial maximum their potential climatically suitable geographic distribution diminished in size. The decrease in the potential climatic distribution was strictly restricted to Northern Europe. Climatic conditions in Southern Europe during the Late Pleistocene remained within the spotted hyena climatic tolerance. Hence, climate changes could have directly affected the Northern distribution of the species during the last glaciations. However, climate change alone is not sufficient to have caused the disappearance of the spotted hyena populations in Southern Europe. That is, other factors, such as prey abundance or human ecological impacts, in addition to climatic change, are needed to completely account for extinction of the European spotted hyena.