Bone-Crushing Wolves Roamed Alaska During Ice Age

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Ice Age carnivores from a cave in Mexico and tar pits in Peru and California also have high rates of tooth wear and fracture, according to the researchers.

"If you killed something, you were likely to have someone come and try to steal it, and so it would behoove you to eat very rapidly and to consume as much of what you killed as possible," Van Valkenburgh said.

Chemical signatures in the wolf bones suggested the animals ate a varied diet of mammoth, musk ox, bison, and horse.

The ancient Alaskan wolves were also genetically distinct from any wolves living today, the authors add.

"If this animal were alive today, it would be classified as a distinct subspecies," Van Valkenburgh said.

Kathleen Lyons is a biologist at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, who studies late Pleistocene mammals to understand how current climate change might affect species diversity.

She was not involved in the new research. But she said it is a "great example of how using different lines of evidence can give you a full picture of an extinct animal."

Ice Age Extinction

Like much of their prey and contemporary carnivores, the specialized Alaskan wolves disappeared at the end of the Ice Age.

Scientists have long debated the causes of these extinctions. Some studies link the demise to overhunting by humans. Other studies suggest a warming climate doomed the animals.

And a recent controversial theory says a comet or meteor exploded over northern North America and triggered the die-off.

Study co-author Van Valkenburgh said her study fails to shed light on the cause of the extinction. But "it's most likely that the carnivores went extinct as a result of their prey going extinct."

This kind of effect on Ice Age carnivores highlights a problem for conservation efforts that target a single predator species as the Earth warms and alters landscapes, noted Lyons, of Old Dominion University.

"If you don't preserve the species' habitat and the species' prey species," she said, "then your efforts to try and preserve a species are going to be problematic at best."

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