Humans responsible for demise of gigantic ancient mammals

August 13, 2015, University of Exeter
Humans responsible for demise of gigantic ancient mammals
A glyptodon, a giant relation of the armadillo. Credit: Shutterstock

Early humans were the dominant cause of the extinction of a variety of species of giant beasts, new research has revealed.

Scientists at the universities of Exeter and Cambridge claim their research settles a prolonged debate over whether mankind or was the dominant cause of the demise of massive creatures in the time of the sabretooth tiger, the woolly mammoth, the and the giant armadillo.

Known collectively as megafauna, most of the largest mammals ever to roam the earth were wiped out over the last 80,000 years, and were all extinct by 10,000 years ago.

Lewis Bartlett, of the University of Exeter, led the research, which also involved the universities of Reading and Bristol and is published in the journal Ecography. He said cutting-edge statistical analysis had helped solve the mystery almost beyond dispute, concluding that man was the dominant force in wiping out the creatures, although climate change could also have played a lesser role.

The researchers ran thousands of scenarios which mapped the windows of time in which each species is known to have become extinct, and humans are known to have arrived on different continents or islands. This was compared against climate reconstructions for the last 90,000 years.

Examining different regions of the world across these scenarios, they found coincidences of human spread and which illustrate that man was the main agent causing the demise, with climate change exacerbating the number of extinctions. However, in certain regions of the world - mainly in Asia - they found patterns which patterns were broadly unaccounted for by either of these two drivers, and called for renewed focus on these neglected areas for further study.

Lewis Bartlett, a researcher from the University of Exeter's Centre for Ecology and Conservation, said: "As far as we are concerned, this research is the nail in the coffin of this 50-year debate - humans were the dominant cause of the extinction of megafauna. What we don't know is what it was about these early settlers that caused this demise. Were they killing them for food, was it early use of fire or were they driven out of their habitats? Our analysis doesn't differentiate, but we can say that it was caused by human activity more than by climate change. It debunks the myth of living in harmony with nature."

Dr Andrea Manica, of Cambridge University, was lead supervisor on the paper. He said: "Whilst our models explain very well the timing and extent of extinctions for most of the world, mainland Asia remains a mystery. According to the fossil record, that region suffered very low rates of extinctions. Understanding why megafauna in mainland Asia is so resilient is the next big question."

Explore further: Mass extinction survival is more than just a numbers game

More information: Ecography, … /ecog.01566/abstract

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3 / 5 (4) Aug 13, 2015
I don't think that has been a mystery. Human migrations have been tracked via tracing animal extinction events.

I do notice that human activity and climate change are interwoven. I wonder if this is to show that not only do Apex predators threaten life, but earth's natural cycles also affect those animals that are not resilient enough to adapt.
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 13, 2015
What an ignorant piece of trash "science".
5 / 5 (6) Aug 13, 2015
So, why didn't the humans in Africa wipe out their mega fauna like the elephants, rhinos, ect?
5 / 5 (3) Aug 13, 2015
So, why didn't the humans in Africa wipe out their mega fauna like the elephants, rhinos, ect?

Hey, we can only eat so many mega-burgers at one time, you know.
4.6 / 5 (10) Aug 13, 2015
So, why didn't the humans in Africa wipe out their mega fauna like the elephants, rhinos, ect?

Because humans evolved alongside those megafauna - they weren't an introduced invasive species like they were in other parts of the world. That's how ecosystems work.
1 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2015
Bears, elks, reindeer and a number of other large animals haven't disappeared. So maybe there weren't just humans at the cause of massive extinctions.
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2015
Well, this article is about megafauna and those aren't megafauna so...
1 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2015
Well, this article is about megafauna and those aren't megafauna so...

Wow, you are megastupid.
3 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2015
Another major structure in the delusional constructions of some psychotic types is threatened...... the vigorous defence is underway.....

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