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Science. 2018 Apr 20;360(6386):310-313. doi: 10.1126/science.aao5987. Epub 2018 Apr 19.

Body size downgrading of mammals over the late Quaternary.

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Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA.
Department of Mathematics, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.
School of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588, USA.
Department of Geological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Since the late Pleistocene, large-bodied mammals have been extirpated from much of Earth. Although all habitable continents once harbored giant mammals, the few remaining species are largely confined to Africa. This decline is coincident with the global expansion of hominins over the late Quaternary. Here, we quantify mammalian extinction selectivity, continental body size distributions, and taxonomic diversity over five time periods spanning the past 125,000 years and stretching approximately 200 years into the future. We demonstrate that size-selective extinction was already under way in the oldest interval and occurred on all continents, within all trophic modes, and across all time intervals. Moreover, the degree of selectivity was unprecedented in 65 million years of mammalian evolution. The distinctive selectivity signature implicates hominin activity as a primary driver of taxonomic losses and ecosystem homogenization. Because megafauna have a disproportionate influence on ecosystem structure and function, past and present body size downgrading is reshaping Earth's biosphere.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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