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Prehistoric Hyenas and Humans Share Migration Patterns

New research into the evolutionary history and prehistoric migrations of hyenas reveals surprising similarities between hyenas and prehistoric humans. The results from the University of Copenhagen and University of Potsdam also indicate that humans had a detrimental effect on hyena populations about 100,000 years ago.

Prehistoric humans left Africa for the first time about 2 million years ago. The research community has been aware of this for some time. Now, novel research reveals that hyenas apparently did the same thing.

Michael Westbury, corresponding author  of the study published in Science Advances and a postdoc at the GLOBE Institute at the University of Copenhagen, said:

The researchers collaborated with researchers at the University of Potsdam and sequenced complete genomes from both modern spotted hyenas in Africa and subfossils of the extinct cave hyena from Europe and Asia.

Separate lineages

The two kinds of hyena — spotted and cave — were previously believed to form a closely related evolutionary lineage. DNA analyses published 15 years ago showed that the two types of hyena were genetically intermingled.

Today, however, thanks to technological advances, the researchers have been able to obtain a lot more genetic data and show that this genetic intermingling is limited. The new study thus reveals an ancient separation. Michael Hofreiter, a professor at the University of Potsdam, said:

While prehistoric hyenas show some similarities with humans in their trans-continental migration patterns, the researchers also found signs that modern humans of the species Homo sapiens had a detrimental impact on hyenas. Rasmus Heller, Assistant Professor at the Department of Biology at the University of Copenhagen, said:

In addition, he explains that humans are believed to have played a role in the extinction of cave hyenas around the end of the last ice age. That means that coexistence between humans and hyenas — like that between humans and other large mammals — may have changed from being relatively benign to detrimental as humans became more advanced. The researchers argue that their study reveals new aspects of when and how animals moved across continents in prehistory. Michael Westbury said:

Provided by: University of Copenhagen [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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  • Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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