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New research sheds light on the Mass Extinction of large Ice Age Mammals
The first global analysis of the mass extinction of large animals worldwide during the course of the last 100,000 years, has been carried out by Scientists from Aarhus University in Denmark. The results indicate Humankind led to the extinction of several large mammals around the time of the last Ice Age and not Climate Change.
The last Ice Age occurred during the Pleistocene Epoch, a period that began roughly 1.8 million years ago and lasted until around 11,700 years ago. The researchers said "We consistently find very large rates of extinction in areas where there had been no contact between wildlife and primitive human races, and which were suddenly confronted by fully developed modern humans (Homo sapiens). In general, at least 30% of the large species of animals disappeared from all such areas" according to Professor Jens-Christian Svenning.
"Our results strongly underline the fact that human expansion throughout the world has meant an enormous loss of large animals," added Soren Faurby, a postdoctorate researcher.
Prior to the research two theories were proposed by scientists as explanations for the extinction of large animals worldwide.
The first that climate change led to the death of these species as they were unable to find suitable habitation. However the extinction of large animals did not occur during the previous Ice Ages, the disappearances therefore remained largely unexplained.
A second theory proposed that the disappearance of animals was due to "overkill", as Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa spreading worldwide over 100,000 years ago, hunting caused a significant drop in the animal population.
Researchers have carried out a A worldwide study and a minute mapping of all the large mammals that existed 132,000 to 1,000 years ago. The results of this study indicate that 177 species of large mammals disappeared during this period. Asia lost 38 species, Africa 18, Europe 19, Australia 26 and North America 43. South America lost a total of 62 species.
The extinction occurred globally, affecting species adapted to both the cold, mammoths for example, and species from temperate climates such as giant deer and the forest elephant. Some giant sloths and giant cape buffalo, which flourished in tropic climates, were also wiped out.
The research indicates that climate change therefore was not a viable cause of the mass extinction, as the only link between climate change and the loss of large mammals was observed in Eurasia. "The significant loss of megafauna all over the world can therefore not be explained by climate change, even though it has definitely played a role as a driving force in changing the distribution of some species of animals." said Christopher Sandom, one of the researchers, Reindeer and polar foxes were found in Central Europe during the Ice Age, for example, but they withdrew northwards as the climate became warmer."