Skip to main content
placeholder image

Anthropology: Ecosystem collapse in pleistocene Australia and a human role in megafaunal extinction

Journal Article


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 δ13C 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.

Publication Date


  • 2005

Citation


  • Miller, G. H., Fogel, M. L., Magee, J. W., Gagan, M. K., Clarke, S. J., & Johnson, B. J. (2005). Anthropology: Ecosystem collapse in pleistocene Australia and a human role in megafaunal extinction. Science, 309(5732), 287-290. doi:10.1126/science.1111288

Scopus Eid


  • 2-s2.0-22044455616

Web Of Science Accession Number


Start Page


  • 287

End Page


  • 290

Volume


  • 309

Issue


  • 5732

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 δ13C 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.

Publication Date


  • 2005

Citation


  • Miller, G. H., Fogel, M. L., Magee, J. W., Gagan, M. K., Clarke, S. J., & Johnson, B. J. (2005). Anthropology: Ecosystem collapse in pleistocene Australia and a human role in megafaunal extinction. Science, 309(5732), 287-290. doi:10.1126/science.1111288

Scopus Eid


  • 2-s2.0-22044455616

Web Of Science Accession Number


Start Page


  • 287

End Page


  • 290

Volume


  • 309

Issue


  • 5732