Croft, Engelman, Dolgushina, Wesley, 2017, Diversity and disparity of sparassodonts (Metatheria) reveal non-analogue nature of ancient South American mammalian carnivore guilds: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, v. 285, 20172012.
What’s it about?
The phrase ‘carnivore guild’ refers to the ecological roles of carnivores (animals that feed on other vertebrates) in a particular region. In most modern areas where many carnivorous mammals co-exist, some are hypercarnivores (like cats), some are mesocarnivores (like dogs), and some are hypocarnivores (like armadillos). These last two groups (meso- and hypocarnivores) would be more loosely categorized as omnivores, with hypocarnivores only very rarely consuming other vertebrates, despite having the capability of doing so more often.
In this paper, the authors compare modern mammalian carnivore guilds with the extinct marsupial carnivore guild of ancient South America, to see if the general proportions of hyper-, meso-, and hypocarnivores are about the same. They find that the South American carnivore guild is substantially different from modern guilds.
Why does it matter?
This research is helpful as it can dispel some of our preconceived notions about how large vertebrate communities are constructed. There does not appear to be a ‘correct’ ratio of hyper-, meso-, and hypocarnivores, so perhaps we should not reconstruct communities that way. Or perhaps this is a hint that we are missing important components of the South American fauna. Regardless, more research is warranted.
Why did I read this?
I read this for several reasons. For one, I have a deep and abiding interest in South American vertebrates, especially some of the extinct groups. I have been doing some research on the subject and hope to one day publish it. And, as it happens, the first author of this paper is a personal friend and a collaborator on the South American work that I’m doing, so it’s fun to see what he’s been up to.