23 January 2012

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: Did humans send North America's large mammals to extinction?

Are ancient humans to blame for mammoths' extinction in North America? Photo by W9NED.
After a beginning-of-semester scheduling hiccup, the group blog Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! is up and running for the spring, starting with a great post by contributor Noah Reid. Noah breaks down a big, complex study that applied species distribution modelling, paleontological data, and ancient DNA analysis to try and determine whether humans were responsible for the mass extinction of North America's ancient large mammals.

With the ending of the ice age, which began around 21,000 years ago, many of these species experienced dramatic declines or went extinct. Woolly Rhinos, Mammoths, Glyptodon, and Megatherium went completely extinct, while Bison, Reindeer, Musk Oxen and wild Horse went through serious declines and range contractions.

These population declines roughly coincided with another major event in earth’s history, the global expansion of modern humans. Because of this synchronicity, there has long been debate about whether either is the cause. Did humans fuel their global expansion by hunting these animals to extinction, were they victims of a changing climate, or was it some combination of the two?

To find out, go read the whole thing. ◼

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