Times, they are a ‘changing and along with change, we must adapt. Climate change, that is, has made each and every wildlife species evolve, improve and adapt. Scientists have embarked on a mission to analyze the way in which dogs have grown from mongoose like creatures, to the beautifully evolved animals of today. A new study conducted on North American dog fossils as old as 40 million years suggests that the evolutionary process of entire groups of predators could be defined as a direct consequence of climate change.
As the study suggests, the first canine creatures emerged in North America, where climate change has transformed them from mongoose like forest dwellers into pursuit pounce predators.
Climate change was known to have brought consistent changes and shifts in vegetation while challenging the evolution of certain mammals, especially herbivores, such as horses and other hoofed ungulates. As vegetation has changed, the teeth of mammals have undergone a change as well, becoming extremely high-crowned in order to prevent them getting completely filed down from feeding on abrasive, gritty grasses.
By now, scientists have only studied the impact of climate change on herbivores, while the other class of animals, namely carnivores, has been left aside and less studied.
Experts have started their extensive studies with dogs. They concluded that these friendly, almost humane animals arrived on Earth around 7 million years ago, when they appeared in Africa and Eurasia, to ultimately land on North American lands, 2 million years ago.
In order to obtain a relevant insight on the evolution of dogs, scientists have examined the elbows and teeth of 32 species of dogs, spanning the period from around 40 million years ago to 2 million years ago. Elbows are extremely relevant as a proof to reveal how these animals used to rely on their forelimbs. After gathering diversified pieces of proof, researchers were ultimately able to identify distinct patterns in fossils which correspond to shifts in climate.
The species of those times were small animals, highly similar to mongooses, extremely well adapted to the habitat. Their forelimbs were not specialized for long and rapid runs but as the climate has seen dramatic change, dogs have evolved. Forests have slowly disappeared to let large grasslands appear and this is how dogs have evolved from ambushers to pursuit-pounce predators like modern coyotes or foxes.
Forelimbs have grown to be stiffer and didn’t move around as much. This proves that they were not good for grappling, but rather adapted to short, pounce-pursuit, and long distance sprints to capture their prey.
Their teeth have modified to become much more durable, as they needed better resistance in order to chow down on prey.
As a comparison, modern cats have a different way of hunting. They rely on ambush rather than the chase, which means that they have forelimbs suitable for this way of managing prey. Canines, for a change, were prone to lengthier pursuits so this allowed for modifying the structure of their forelimbs.
Image Source: ancient-origins.net