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Concept: Carnivora


Most mammalian species produce facial expressions. Historically, animal facial expressions have been considered inflexible and involuntary displays of emotional states rather than active attempts to communicate with others. In the current study, we aimed to test whether domestic dog facial expressions are subject to audience effects and/ or changes in response to an arousing stimulus (e.g. food) alone. We presented dogs with an experimental situation in which a human demonstrator was either attending to them or turned away, and varied whether she presented food or not. Dogs produced significantly more facial movements when the human was attentive than when she was not. The food, however, as a non-social but arousing stimulus, did not affect the dogs' behaviour. The current study is therefore evidence that dogs are sensitive to the human’s attentional state when producing facial expressions, suggesting that facial expressions are not just inflexible and involuntary displays of emotional states, but rather potentially active attempts to communicate with others.

Concepts: Psychology, Dog, Apex predator, Dog health, Carnivora, Gray Wolf


The phylogenetic position of the giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca (Carnivora: Ursidae: Ailuropodinae), has been one of the most hotly debated topics by mammalian biologists and paleontologists during the last century. Based on molecular data, it is currently recognized as a true ursid, sister-taxon of the remaining extant bears, from which it would have diverged by the Early Miocene. However, from a paleobiogeographic and chronological perspective, the origin of the giant panda lineage has remained elusive due to the scarcity of the available Miocene fossil record. Until recently, the genus Ailurarctos from the Late Miocene of China (ca. 8-7 mya) was recognized as the oldest undoubted member of the Ailuropodinae, suggesting that the panda lineage might have originated from an Ursavus ancestor. The role of the purported ailuropodine Agriarctos, from the Miocene of Europe, in the origins of this clade has been generally dismissed due to the paucity of the available material. Here, we describe a new ailuropodine genus, Kretzoiarctos gen. nov., based on remains from two Middle Miocene (ca. 12-11 Ma) Spanish localities. A cladistic analysis of fossil and extant members of the Ursoidea confirms the inclusion of the new genus into the Ailuropodinae. Moreover, Kretzoiarctos precedes in time the previously-known, Late Miocene members of the giant panda clade from Eurasia (Agriarctos and Ailurarctos). The former can be therefore considered the oldest recorded member of the giant panda lineage, which has significant implications for understanding the origins of this clade from a paleobiogeographic viewpoint.

Concepts: Phylogenetics, Giant Panda, Carnivora, Bear, Ailuropoda, Qinling Panda, Ailuridae, Red Panda


BACKGROUND: Aleutian mink disease virus (AMDV) is widespread among ranched and free-ranging American mink in Canada, but there is no information on its prevalence in other wild animal species. This paper describes the prevalence of AMDV of 12 furbearing species in Nova Scotia (NS), Canada. METHODS: Samples were collected from carcasses of 462 wild animals of 12 furbearing species, trapped in 10 NS counties between November 2009 and February 2011. Viral DNA was tested by PCR using two primer pairs, and anti-viral antibodies were tested by counterimmunoelectrophoresis (CIEP) on spleen homogenates. RESULTS: Positive PCR or CIEP samples were detected in 56 of 60 (93.3%) American mink, 43 of 61 (70.5%) short-tailed weasels, 2 of 8 (25.0%) striped skunks, 2 of 11 (18.2%) North American river otters, 9 of 85 (10.6%) raccoons, and 2 of 20 (10.0%) bobcats. Samples from six fishers, 24 coyotes, 25 red foxes, 58 beavers, 45 red-squirrels and 59 muskrats were negative. Antibodies to AMDV were detected by CIEP in 16 of 56 (28.6%) mink and one of the 8 skunks (12.5%). Thirteen of the mink and one skunk were positive for PCR and CIEP, but three mink and one skunk were CIEP positive and PCR negative. Positive CIEP or PCR animals were present in all nine counties from which mink or weasel samples were collected. CONCLUSIONS: The presence of AMDV in so many species across the province has important epidemiological ramifications and could pose a serious health problem for the captive mink, as well as for susceptible wildlife. The mechanism of virus transmission between wildlife and captive mink and the effects of AMDV exposure on the viability of the susceptible species deserve further investigation.

Concepts: Mustelidae, Carnivora, Wildlife


Theoretically, homogeneous environments favor the evolution of specialists whereas heterogeneous environments favor generalists. Canine distemper is a multi-host carnivore disease caused by canine distemper virus (CDV). The described cell receptor of CDV is SLAM (CD150). Attachment of CDV hemagglutinin protein (CDV-H) to this receptor facilitates fusion and virus entry in cooperation with the fusion protein (CDV-F). We investigated whether CDV strains co-evolved in the large, homogeneous domestic dog population exhibited specialist traits, and strains adapted to the heterogeneous environment of smaller populations of different carnivores exhibited generalist traits. Comparison of amino acid sequences of the SLAM binding region revealed higher similarity between sequences from Canidae species than to sequences from other carnivore families. Using an in vitro assay, we quantified syncytia formation mediated by CDV-H proteins from dog and non-dog CDV strains in cells expressing dog, lion or cat SLAM. CDV-H proteins from dog strains produced significantly higher values with cells expressing dog SLAM than with cells expressing lion or cat SLAM. CDV-H proteins from strains of non-dog species produced similar values in all three cell types, but lower values in cells expressing dog SLAM than the values obtained for CDV-H proteins from dog strains. By experimentally changing one amino acid (Y549H) in the CDV-H protein of one dog strain we decreased expression of specialist traits and increased expression of generalist traits, thereby confirming its functional importance. A virus titer assay demonstrated that dog strains produced higher titers in cells expressing dog SLAM than cells expressing SLAM of non-dog hosts, which suggested possible fitness benefits of specialization post-cell entry. We provide in vitro evidence for the expression of specialist and generalist traits by CDV strains, and fitness trade-offs across carnivore host environments caused by antagonistic pleiotropy. These findings extend knowledge on CDV molecular epidemiology of particular relevance to wild carnivores.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Cell, Amino acid, Canine distemper, Carnivora


The giant panda evolved from omnivorous bears. It lives on a bamboo-dominated diet at present, but it still retains a typical carnivorous digestive system and is genetically deficient in cellulose-digesting enzymes. To find out whether this endangered mammalian species, like other herbivores, has successfully developed a gut microbiota adapted to its fiber-rich diet, we conducted a 16S rRNA gene-based large-scale structural profiling of the giant panda fecal microbiota. Forty-five captive individuals were sampled in spring, summer, and late autumn within 1 year. Significant intraindividual variations in the diversity and structure of gut microbiota across seasons were observed in this population, which were even greater than the variations between individuals. Compared with published data sets involving 124 gut microbiota profiles from 54 mammalian species, these giant pandas, together with 9 captive and 7 wild individuals investigated previously, showed extremely low gut microbiota diversity and an overall structure that diverged from those of nonpanda herbivores but converged with those of carnivorous and omnivorous bears. The giant panda did not harbor putative cellulose-degrading phylotypes such as Ruminococcaceae and Bacteroides bacteria that are typically enriched in other herbivores, but instead, its microbiota was dominated by Escherichia/Shigella and Streptococcus bacteria. Members of the class Clostridia were common and abundant in the giant panda gut microbiota, but most of the members present were absent in other herbivores and were not phylogenetically related with known cellulolytic lineages. Therefore, the giant panda appears not to have evolved a gut microbiota compatible with its newly adopted diet, which may adversely influence the coevolutionary fitness of this herbivore.

Concepts: Bacteria, Gut flora, Animal, Endangered species, Giant Panda, Omnivore, Carnivora, Bear


The skeletal remains of a small bear (Protarctos abstrusus) were collected at the Beaver Pond fossil site in the High Arctic (Ellesmere I., Nunavut). This mid-Pliocene deposit has also yielded 12 other mammals and the remains of a boreal-forest community. Phylogenetic analysis reveals this bear to be basal to modern bears. It appears to represent an immigration event from Asia, leaving no living North American descendants. The dentition shows only modest specialization for herbivory, consistent with its basal position within Ursinae. However, the appearance of dental caries suggest a diet high in fermentable-carbohydrates. Fossil plants remains, including diverse berries, suggests that, like modern northern black bears, P. abstrusus may have exploited a high-sugar diet in the fall to promote fat accumulation and facilitate hibernation. A tendency toward a sugar-rich diet appears to have arisen early in Ursinae, and may have played a role in allowing ursine lineages to occupy cold habitats.

Concepts: Dental caries, Arctic, Carnivora, Pliocene, Bear, American Black Bear, Hibernation, Polar bear


Cryptochromes are a ubiquitous group of blue-light absorbing flavoproteins that in the mammalian retina have an important role in the circadian clock. In birds, cryptochrome 1a (Cry1a), localized in the UV/violet-sensitive S1 cone photoreceptors, is proposed to be the retinal receptor molecule of the light-dependent magnetic compass. The retinal localization of mammalian Cry1, homologue to avian Cry1a, is unknown, and it is open whether mammalian Cry1 is also involved in magnetic field sensing. To constrain the possible role of retinal Cry1, we immunohistochemically analysed 90 mammalian species across 48 families in 16 orders, using an antiserum against the Cry1 C-terminus that in birds labels only the photo-activated conformation. In the Carnivora families Canidae, Mustelidae and Ursidae, and in some Primates, Cry1 was consistently labeled in the outer segment of the shortwave-sensitive S1 cones. This finding would be compatible with a magnetoreceptive function of Cry1 in these taxa. In all other taxa, Cry1 was not detected by the antiserum that likely also in mammals labels the photo-activated conformation, although Western blots showed Cry1 in mouse retinal cell nuclei. We speculate that in the mouse and the other negative-tested mammals Cry1 is involved in circadian functions as a non-light-responsive protein.

Concepts: Protein, Retina, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Rodent, Rod cell, Carnivora, Cryptochrome


The history of biodiversity is characterized by a continual replacement of branches in the tree of life. The rise and demise of these branches (clades) are ultimately determined by changes in speciation and extinction rates, often interpreted as a response to varying abiotic and biotic factors. However, understanding the relative importance of these factors remains a major challenge in evolutionary biology. Here we analyze the rich North American fossil record of the dog family Canidae and of other carnivores to tease apart the roles of competition, body size evolution, and climate change on the sequential replacement of three canid subfamilies (two of which have gone extinct). We develop a novel Bayesian analytic framework to show that competition from multiple carnivore clades successively drove the demise and replacement of the two extinct canid subfamilies by increasing their extinction rates and suppressing their speciation. Competitive effects have likely come from ecologically similar species from both canid and felid clades. These results imply that competition among entire clades, generally considered a rare process, can play a more substantial role than climate change and body size evolution in determining the sequential rise and decline of clades.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Ecology, Extinction, Canidae, Charles Darwin, Carnivora, Dinosaur


Large carnivores face serious threats and are experiencing massive declines in their populations and geographic ranges around the world. We highlight how these threats have affected the conservation status and ecological functioning of the 31 largest mammalian carnivores on Earth. Consistent with theory, empirical studies increasingly show that large carnivores have substantial effects on the structure and function of diverse ecosystems. Significant cascading trophic interactions, mediated by their prey or sympatric mesopredators, arise when some of these carnivores are extirpated from or repatriated to ecosystems. Unexpected effects of trophic cascades on various taxa and processes include changes to bird, mammal, invertebrate, and herpetofauna abundance or richness; subsidies to scavengers; altered disease dynamics; carbon sequestration; modified stream morphology; and crop damage. Promoting tolerance and coexistence with large carnivores is a crucial societal challenge that will ultimately determine the fate of Earth’s largest carnivores and all that depends upon them, including humans.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Predation, Ecology, Sociology, Mammal, Paleontology, Carnivora, Carnivore


From Roman gladiatorial combat to Egyptian animal mummies, the capture and manipulation of carnivores was instrumental in helping to shape social hierarchies throughout the ancient world. This paper investigates the historical inflection point when humans began to control animals not only as alimental resources but as ritual symbols and social actors in the New World. At Teotihuacan (A.D. 1-550), one of the largest pre-Hispanic cities, animal remains were integral components of ritual caches expressing state ideology and militarism during the construction of the Moon and the Sun Pyramids. The caches contain the remains of nearly 200 carnivorous animals, human sacrificial victims and other symbolic artifacts. This paper argues the presence of skeletal pathologies of infectious disease and injuries manifest on the carnivore remains show direct evidence of captivity. Stable isotope analysis (δ13C and δ15N) of bones and teeth confirms that some of these carnivores were consuming high levels of C4 foods, likely reflecting a maize-based anthropocentric food chain. These results push back the antiquity of keeping captive carnivores for ritualistic purposes nearly 1000 years before the Spanish conquistadors described Moctezuma’s zoo at the Aztec capital. Mirroring these documents the results indicate a select group of carnivores at Teotihuacan may have been fed maize-eating omnivores, such as dogs and humans. Unlike historical records, the present study provides the earliest and direct archaeological evidence for this practice in Mesoamerica. It also represents the first systematic isotopic exploration of a population of archaeological eagles (n = 24) and felids (n = 29).

Concepts: Animal, Mammal, Felidae, Mesoamerica, Isotopes, Omnivore, Carnivora, Carnivore