Investigating historical anthropogenic impacts on faunal communities is key to understanding present patterns of biodiversity and holds important implications for conservation biology. While several studies have demonstrated the human role in the extinction of large herbivores, effective methods to study human interference on large carnivores in the past are limited by the small number of carnivoran remains in the paleozoological record. Here, we integrate a systematic paleozoological survey of biogenic cave assemblages with the archaeological and paleoenvironmental records of the Judean Desert, to reveal historical changes in the large carnivore community. Our results show a late Holocene (~ 3400 years ago) faunal reassembly characterized by the diminishment of the dominant large carnivoran, the Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus sbsp. nimr), and the spread of the Syrian striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena sbsp. syriaca). We suggest that increased hunting pressure in combination with regional aridification were responsible for the decrease in the number of leopards, while the introduction of domestic animals and settlement refuse brought new scavenging opportunities for hyenas. The recent extirpation of leopards from the region has been a final note to the Holocene human impact on the ecosystem.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
IAL acknowledges a Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Israeli Council for Higher Education. We thank Dudi Greenbaum, Jamil al Atrash, and Muhammad Ali Ibrahim Bdur from the National Parks Authority for their assistance in our fieldwork; to Ido Wachtel and Avi Mashiach for their help with the geospatial and archaeological data; and to the volunteers who have helped us in excavation and survey. We thank Alex Cherkinsky, from the Center of Applied Isotope Studies in Georgia, and Tom Higham, Peter Ditchfield, and Thibaut Deviese, from the Oxford Radiocarbon Unit, for their help with the radiocarbon analyses.
We thank Liora Horowitz and one anonymous reviewer for suggestions that improved the paper considerably. The research was funded by an ERC-stg grant (#802752 to NM) for the DEADSEA_ECO Project (https://sites .google.com/view/deadsea-eco/home).
© 2021, The Author(s).
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