Who or What is Responsible for the Megafauna Extinctions

A new and extensive study that is the biggest of its kind, involving over 40 academic institutions around the world, has tackled one simple question: did humans or climate change cause the extinction of the megafauna of the Ice Age.

Mammals such as the woolly rhinoceros and woolly mammoth are long since gone, but leave their remains in many locations, tantalising researchers as to their demise.

Some have said that climate change alone did in the animals, while others believe that humans hunted the animals to extinction. But neither answer is enough, according to the new research which was published in the journal Nature, which was led by Professor Eske Willerslev’s Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum, University of Copenhagen.

The teams used ancient megafauna DNA, climate data, and the archaeological record, to determine that different species reacted dramatically different to climate change and humans.

According to the study, humans played absolutely no part in the extinction of the woolly rhino or the musk ox in Eurasia, their demise being laid solely at the feet of climate change. However humans are almost entirely responsible for hunting the wild horse and the bison of Siberia to extinction.

The reindeer remained relatively unaffected by either of these factors, while curiously enough, the extinction of the woolly mammoth is still a mystery.

“Our findings put a final end to the single-cause theories of the Ice Age extinctions, and suggests that care should be taken in making generalisations not just regarding past and present species extinctions but also those of the future,” explains Eske Willerslev; “the impacts of climate change and human encroachment on species extinctions really depends on which species we’re looking at.”

However, Eline Lorenzen from the University of Copenhagen and lead author of the study says, “We do find that climate change has been intrinsically linked with major megafauna population size changes over the past 50,000 years, supporting the view that populations of many species will decline in the future owing to climate change and habitat loss.”

Source: University of Copenhagen

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