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Why we have coyotes, not saber-toothed cats

The most detailed study to date of ancient predators trapped in the La Brea Tar Pits is helping Americans understand why today we're dealing with coyotes dumping over garbage cans and not saber-toothed cats ripping our arms off. A National Science Foundation-funded paleontologist, grew up visiting the one-of-a-kind fossil site in Los Angeles, which contains fossils of predators that tried to eat horses, bison and camels stuck in the tar over the past 50,000 years and themselves became trapped, offering the best opportunity to understand Ice Age animals facing climate change. The Pleistocene Epoch spanned 2.6 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago, encompassing multiple glacial and interglacial periods and the arrival of humans, one or both of which forced predators to adapt their diets or die. The researcher spent the last decade visiting La Brea, studying the teeth of extinct species such as American lions, saber-toothed cats and dire wolves; and teeth from ancient animals whose offspring are still alive today, such as gray wolves, cougars and coyotes. Her work revealed that competition for prey among carnivores wasn't a likely cause of the Pleistocene megafaunal extinction as formerly believed, because, like dogs and cats of today, one preferred running after herbivores in the open fields, while the other preferred stalking them in forested areas.

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