Comparative ecology and taphonomy of spotted hyenas, humans, and wolves in Pleistocene Italy

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52 Scopus citations


In Late Pleistocene Italy, spotted hyenas competed in certain niche dimensions with wolves and in other dimensions with Paleolithic humans. Spotted hyenas of the Italian peninsula consumed essentially the same ungulate species as Paleolithic humans did, and both of these predators depended heavily on bone marrow. Wolves tended to consume more hillside-adapted ungulates in the same area and period, suggesting some spatial separation of the three predators according to topography. There is complete overlap in the prey age groups commonly harvested by spotted hyenas and wolves, but pronounced differences between this pair of predators and Paleolithic humans of the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods; from the narrow perspective of ungulate exploitation, Middle and Upper Paleolithic humans were quite similar. Taken together, there is good evidence for niche separation among the three ungulate predators during the Late Pleistocene in Italy. The intensity of bone transport to and modification at dens by hyenas varied greatly with circumstance and prey body size, indicating that prey size must be carefully controlled in comparisons of predator behavior. Populations of wolves and humans appear to have expanded toward the end of spotted hyenas' tenure on the Italian peninsula, and disappearance of the spotted hyenas from Eurasia may be best explained by rapid transformations of ecosystem structure associated with global warming after 13 KYA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)771-785
Number of pages15
JournalRevue de Paleobiologie
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004


  • Cave sites
  • Italy
  • Paleolithic humans
  • Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta)
  • Taphononomy
  • Wolves (Canis lupus)
  • Zooarchaeology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Palaeontology


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