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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Nov 22;274(1627):2819-28.

Computer simulation of feeding behaviour in the thylacine and dingo as a novel test for convergence and niche overlap.

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School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia.


The extinct marsupial thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) and placental grey wolf (Canis lupus) are commonly presented as an iconic example of convergence. However, various analyses suggest distinctly different behaviours and specialization towards either relatively small or large prey in the thylacine, bringing the degree of apparent convergence into question. Here we apply a powerful engineering tool, three-dimensional finite element analysis incorporating multiple material properties for bone, to examine mechanical similarity and niche overlap in the thylacine and the wolf subspecies implicated in its extinction from mainland Australia, Canis lupus dingo. Comparisons of stress distributions not only reveal considerable similarity, but also informative differences. The thylacine's mandible performs relatively poorly where only the actions of the jaw muscles are considered, although this must be considered in the light of relatively high bite forces. Stresses are high in the posterior of the thylacine's cranium under loads that simulate struggling prey. We conclude that relative prey size may have been comparable where both species acted as solitary predators, but that the dingo is better adapted to withstand the high extrinsic loads likely to accompany social hunting of relatively large prey. It is probable that there was considerable ecological overlap. As a large mammalian hypercarnivore adapted to taking small-medium sized prey, the thylacine may have been particularly vulnerable to disturbance.

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