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Ancient Dog Species Went Extinct From Cat Competition

First Posted: Aug 12, 2015 09:47 PM EDT

Cats and dogs might not have any qualms about hanging out, but if we picture the two domesticated versions of the animals duking it out in a fight, most would bet on the hound.

New findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reveal that cats, at one time, may have had the upper hand. Researchers at the Universities of Gothenburg (Sweden), São Paulo (Brazil) and Lausanne (Switzerland) discovered through the examination of over 2,000 fossils that the arrival of felids to North America from Asia, the strictest carnivores of the 13 terrestrial families in the order Carnivora, had quite a deadly impact on the diversity of the dog family (canid species), contributing to the extinction of as many as 40 species. This is contradictory to previous findings that linked climate change to possible extinction.

"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" says lead study author Daniele Silvestro at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, in a news release.

Researchers say that the dog family originated in North America close to 40 million years ago, reaching a maximum diversity close to 22 million years ago. At this time, over 30 species inhabited the continent. As they progressively increased in body size, becoming some of the largest carnivores on the continent, the findings suggest that felids must have been more efficient predators than many of their extinct canid counterparts. As of today, only nine of the 30 original dog species now exist.

Though researchers note that several large carnivores today face a higher extinction rate than some smaller species, the study authors, however, found no evidence suggesting that this was the case in this particular study.

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