Hyena as a predator of small mammals? Taphonomic analysis from the site of Bois Roche, France

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Feeding behaviors may differ between past and current predators due to differences in the environments inhabited by these species at different times. We provide an example of this behavioral variability in spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), for which our analysis of a late Pleistocene micromammal assemblage indicates that hyenas preyed upon small rodents, a feeding habit that is rarely observed today among hyenas. The Bois Roche cave site is situated at the edge of a low bluff overlooking the floodplain of a small stream in Cherves-Richemont (Charente, France). The deposits are dated by electron spin resonance (ESR) to about 69.7 ± 4.1 Ka. Excavations at the site recovered fossil bones and teeth of large and small mammals, together with hyena coprolites. Water screening of the sediments produced large accumulations of rodent remains with low taxonomic diversity. Small mammal bones were recovered from hyena coprolites as well. Descriptions of small mammal bone modification, both from the sediments and coprolites, are reported here. The analysis yielded a distinct taphonomic pattern representative of large carnivores (over 30 kg), which differs from any other modern or fossil predator-accumulated microfaunal assemblage taphonomically analyzed to date. To our knowledge, previous studies of hyena diet have not recorded high concentrations of a single-rodent prey species. We conclude that the low species diversity of this small mammal assemblage most likely relates to a local abundance of the prey species due to an outbreak in the rodent population, rather than from specialist predator behavior and hunting technique.
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