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Climate change plus human pressure caused large mammal extinctions in late Pleistocene

Berkeley - A University of California, Berkeley, paleobiologist and his colleagues warn that the future of the Earth's mammals could be as dire as it was between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago, when a combination of climate change and human pressure resulted in the extinction of two-thirds of all large mammals on the planet.

Paleobiologist Anthony D. Barnosky and his colleagues reached this conclusion after review of studies of the extensive large mammal, or megafauna, extinctions that occurred in the late Pleistocene, when animals such as mammoths and mastodons, the saber-toothed cat, ground sloths and native American horses and camels went extinct.

In the forensic quest for who done it, many have pointed fingers squarely at humans.

But in a review appearing in the Oct. 1 issue of Science, Barnosky and his colleagues conclude that climate change also played a big role in driving these extinctions.

Barnosky's colleagues in the study are Paul Koch, professor of earth sciences at UC Santa Cruz; Scott Wing, a paleobotanist in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History; UC Berkeley graduate student Alan Shabel; and recent UC Berkeley Ph.D. Bob Feranec, now a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University.

"There's been a lot of talk about people causing the extinction of the megafauna by killing everything they saw, like a blitzkrieg," said Barnosky. "But if you look at all the evidence, it's clear that while humans had a major role in these extinctions, in many cases climate change was a key part of the recipe.

"Humans and climate change were the one-two punch that drove extinction between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago, and the same thing is happening in a major way today."

Because climate change is occurring more rapidly today than even in the late Pleistocene, when the majority of megafauna went extinct, serious consequences for many large animal species t
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rls@pa.urel.berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
30-Sep-2004


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