Rapid range shifts and megafaunal extinctions associated with late Pleistocene climate change

Journal: Nature Communications

Published: 2020-06-02

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-16502-3

Affiliations: 16

Authors: 16

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Research Highlight

The end of North America’s ice age beasts

© Daniel Eskridge/Stocktrek Images/Getty

© Daniel Eskridge/Stocktrek Images/Getty

Climate change may not fully explain ice age megafauna extinctions in North America.

At the end of the last ice age, climate change altered biodiversity worldwide. In North America, this coincided with humans arriving, making it tricky to determine which event caused the changes.

To investigate biodiversity changes during the last ice age, a team led by researchers from Curtin University analysed the DNA of thousands of bone fragments and soil samples from a cave in Texas.

After the end of the ice age 13,000 years ago and another cold snap (called the Younger Dryas), the plateau had transformed from grasslands that hosted many burrowing and grazing mammals to open woodlands with far less biodiversity.

As temperatures rose again, plant diversity and small mammals returned, but many large animals such as camels and sabretooth cats did not.

The researchers suggest that climate change alone cannot explain the disappearances, so human hunting could be the main cause.

Supported content

  1. Nature Communications 11, 2770 (2020). doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-16502-3
Institutions Share
Trace and Environmental DNA Laboratory (TrEnD), Curtin University, Australia 0.22
Department of Anthropology, TAMU, United States of America (USA) 0.13
Department of Geological Sciences (DGS), UT Austin, United States of America (USA) 0.13
Department of Anthropology, FSU, United States of America (USA) 0.06
Mammoth Cave (MACA), NPS, United States of America (USA) 0.06
Center for the Study of the First Americans (CSFA), TAMU, United States of America (USA) 0.06
Utah State Office, BLM, United States of America (USA) 0.06
Stafford Research Inc., United States of America (USA) 0.06
ANU Division of Ecology and Evolution (E&E), Australia 0.03
Department of Integrative Biology, UT Austin, United States of America (USA) 0.03
Winsborough Consulting, United States of America (USA) 0.03
Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, Denmark 0.03
Department of Biology, UCPH, Denmark 0.03
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB), UCSC, United States of America (USA) 0.03
University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), United States of America (USA) 0.03

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