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Keywords:

  • thylacine;
  • marsupial carnivore;
  • prey size;
  • ecomorphology;
  • predation

Abstract

The European colonists of Tasmania named the thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus a ‘marsupial wolf’ or the ‘Tasmanian tiger’ or ‘hyena’, in reference to its resemblance to large canids and the bold stripes on its rump. The largest marsupial carnivore in historic times, it was persecuted for alleged sheep killing and became extinct before its ecology was documented. We have reconstructed the likely prey size and the hunting and killing methods of the thylacine by comparing canine tooth strength and limb bone length ratios with those of extant marsupial and placental carnivores. The thylacine was probably a pounce–pursuit predator of fairly open habitats, which killed medium-sized prey (1–5 kg) that were small relative to its body size (15–30 kg), with a crushing, penetrating bite. The trophic niche of the thylacine was similar to that of smaller canids such as the coyote Canis latrans (rather than the wolf C. lupus), but ecomorphological convergence of the thylacine with canids was superficial. Phylogenetic constraint has resulted in unique patterns of tooth eruption, molar tooth and jaw geometry, calcaneum architecture, and perhaps FMT/running speed relationships in the Dasyuroidea.