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Post ice-age extinctions of large mammals linked to humans, not climate change

Posted June 5, 2014
Restoration of a steppe mammoth. Credit: Kurzon/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

A team of researchers with Aarhus University in Denmark has concluded that the die-out of large mammals after the last ice-age was due more too human activity than a changing environment. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, the team describes how they conducted a country by country survey of all known species extinctions from one thousand years ago to 132,000 years ago. In comparing what they found with known environmental changes during the same period they found a pattern emerging that fingered humans as the main cause of the majority of the extinctions.

As the ice melted at the end of the Pleistocene epoch about 12,000 years ago, large mammals (greater than 10 kilograms) such as the woolly mammoth, the giant sloth, cave dwelling lions, etc. began dying off, eventually disappearing altogether. The cause of the extinctions has, in many cases, been blamed on changing environmental conditions, despite a lack of evidence. In this new effort, the research team has found some evidence to suggest the die-offs were more likely caused by humans—either directly by hunting, or indirectly by burning vegetation needed for survival.

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