Did the thylacine violate the costs of carnivory? Body mass and sexual dimorphism of an iconic Australian marsupial

Douglass S. Rovinsky, Alistair R. Evans, Damir G. Martin, Justin W. Adams

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1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

The relative body masses of predators and their prey strongly affect the predators' ecology. An accurate estimate of the mass of an extinct predator is therefore key to revealing its biology and the structure of the ecosystem it inhabited. Until its extinction, the thylacine was the largest extant carnivorous marsupial, but little data exist regarding its body mass, with an average of 29.5 kg the most commonly used estimate. According to the costs of carnivory model, this estimate predicts that thylacines would have focused on prey subequal to or larger than themselves; however, many studies of their functional morphology suggest a diet of smaller animals. Here, we present new body mass estimates for 93 adult thylacines, including two taxidermy specimens and four complete mounted skeletons, representing 40 known-sex specimens, using three-dimensional volumetric model-informed regressions. We demonstrate that prior estimates substantially overestimated average adult thylacine body mass. We show mixed-sex population mean (16.7 kg), mean male (19.7 kg), and mean female (13.7 kg) body masses well below prior estimates, and below the 21 kg costs of carnivory threshold. Our data show that the thylacine did not violate the costs of carnivory. The thylacine instead occupied the 14.5-21 kg predator/prey range characterized by small-prey predators capable of occasionally switching to relatively large-bodied prey if necessary.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20201537
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume287
Issue number1933
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2020

Keywords

  • body mass estimation
  • convex hull
  • feeding ecology
  • sexual dimorphism
  • Thylacinus cynocephalus
  • volumetric model

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