Underrated ambush specialists in caves – Ice Age wolves preying on cave bears. Study case: Muierilor Cave, Romania
Many taphonomic evidences from the karst settings across Eurasia indicated that the Late Pleistocene cave bears (Ursus spelaeus Rosenmüller, 1794) were often preyed upon by the notorious Ice Age cave lions (Panthera leo spelaea Goldfuss, 1810) and cave hyenas (Crocuta crocuta spelaea, 1823), during hibernation. Recent palaeontological excavation in Southern Romania, at Muierilor Cave (9 sqm trench), showed that the MIS 3 cave bears (MNI = 72) had an unexpected medium-sized predator, in addition to the well known large carnivores (MNI cave lions = 1; MNI hyenas = 3). The taphonomic, the radiocarbon and the stable isotopic results indicated a constant use of the cave by the wolves (MNI = 42) across the Marine Isotopic Stages 3 and 2 (MIS 3-2; ca. 45–11.5 kyr BP). Many individual nests with wolf bones (sometimes even fully articulated skeletons) were found in a remote passage of the cave suggesting a gregarious behavior in ambushing, similar to their modern relatives. This is one the most numerous Late Pleistocene wolf population documented in a cave deposit, showing an extraordinary resilience and adaptability of the species, even after many large carnivores went extinct at the end of the LGM. These results are adding valuable information in understanding the antagonism of the large carnivore species and their palaeoecology during the last Ice Age and beyond.