Anthropology: Ecosystem Collapse in Pleistocene Australia and a Human Role in Megafaunal Extinction

Gifford H. Miller, Marilyn L. Fogel, John W. Magee, Michael K. Gagan, Simon Clarke, Beverly J. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

292 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Most of Australia's largest mammals became extinct 50,000 to 45,000 years ago, shortly after humans colonized the continent. Without exceptional climate change at that time, a human cause is inferred, but a mechanism remains elusive. A 140,000-year record of dietary {delta}13C documents a permanent reduction in food sources available to the Australian emu, beginning about the time of human colonization; a change replicated at three widely separated sites and in the marsupial wombat. We speculate that human firing of landscapes rapidly converted a drought-adapted mosaic of trees, shrubs, and nutritious grasslands to the modern fire-adapted desert scrub. Animals that could adapt survived; those that could not, became extinct.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-290
Number of pages4
JournalScience
Volume309
Issue number5732
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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