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By comparing frequencies of counted extant carnivores attracted by distress calls of prey species in African ecosystems with those of fossil records found in ‘tar seeps’ in Northern America, Carbone et al. (2009) conclude that Smilodon fatalis was social. The authors argue that the ‘predominance of Smilodon and other striking similarities between playbacks and the fossil record support the conclusion that Smilodon was social’. There are however several arguments questioning the comparability between the two scenarios that ultimately challenge Carbone et al.'s (2009) conclusion.
In essence, the TSS is thus not identical to the PBS. Moreover, high ratios of carnivores/carcass can be observed in extant solitary carnivore species, and juvenile to adult ratios at carcasses could be similar at kills of solitary carnivores. Therefore, similar frequencies of S. fatalis in tar seeps and modern social African carnivores in audio lure samples might have been not more than a coincidence.
The accompanying reply can be viewed on page 563 or at http://dx.doi:10.1098/rsbl.2008.0261.