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

hat weathered the Pleistocene extinction could be just down the road, Barnosky said. And the impact could be even greater today because of impoverished large animal populations and surging populations of humans taking over former large-animal habitats.

"Human activities today, combined with climate change, probably are going to result in inevitable extinction of many more species and unpredictable ecosystem changes," he said.

The authors' warnings are based on a review of previous studies of Pleistocene animal extinctions around the world, from Australia to Europe to North America. The Pleistocene, a period starting about 1.8 million years ago, was a time of glacial comings and goings, with more than 20 cycles of cooling and warming that concluded only about 10,000 years ago with the end of the last ice age.

In previous studies of animal remains layered in caves in the American West, Barnosky has found that during some of the last few glacial/interglacial cycles between 1 million and 600,000 years ago, the number of small, medium and large mammals in a given community remained fairly stable, though different species may have filled the various ecosystem niches. In the late Pleistocene, however, something happened to make the number of large mammals nosedive continent-wide.

This new analysis of archeological, climatic, ecological and simulation studies shows that these extinctions happened around the world. Of more than 150 genera of megafauna - that is, animals weighing more than 44 kilograms (97 pounds) - living on Earth 50,000 years ago, at least 97 were extinct by 10,000 years ago. If you look at localized extinctions instead of global extinctions, 121 genera disappeared from at least one continent.

Those blaming humans ascribe the extinctions to human hunting, either through overkill - hunting that could have led to extinction in about 1,500 years - or through a "blitzkrieg" of hunting that could have knocked off a specie

Contact: Robert Sanders
University of California - Berkeley

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