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Science. 2005 Jul 8;309(5732):287-90.

Ecosystem collapse in Pleistocene Australia and a human role in megafaunal extinction.

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  • 1INSTAAR and Geological Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0450 USA.

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(13)C 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.

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PMID:
16002615
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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