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Australia Earth Science

Humans, Not Climate Change, Wiped Out Australian Megafauna (phys.org) 176

"New evidence involving the ancient poop of some of the huge and astonishing creatures that once roamed Australia indicates the primary cause of their extinction around 45,000 years ago was likely a result of humans, not climate change," reports Phys.org. schwit1 quotes their report on new analysis of a prehistoric sediment core from the Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia. The core contains chronological layers of material blown and washed into the ocean, including dust, pollen, ash and spores from a fungus called Sporormiella that thrived on the dung of plant-eating mammals, said CU Boulder Professor Gifford Miller, who participated in the study... Fungal spores from plant-eating mammal dung were abundant in the sediment core layers from 150,000 years ago to about 45,000 years ago, when they went into a nosedive, said Miller... "The abundance of these spores is good evidence for a lot of large mammals on the southwestern Australian landscape up until about 45,000 years ago," he said. "Then, in a window of time lasting just a few thousand years, the megafauna population collapsed."

The Australian collection of megafauna some 50,000 years ago included 1,000-pound kangaroos, 2-ton wombats, 25-foot-long lizards, 400-pound flightless birds, 300-pound marsupial lions and Volkswagen-sized tortoises. More than 85 percent of Australia's mammals, birds and reptiles weighing over 100 pounds went extinct shortly after the arrival of the first humans, said Miller... "There is no evidence of significant climate change during the time of the megafauna extinction."

The article adds that last year Miller also identified the first direct evidence that humans preyed on Australian megafauna -- burned eggshells from a 400-pound bird.
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Humans, Not Climate Change, Wiped Out Australian Megafauna

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  • by Zobeid ( 314469 ) on Sunday January 22, 2017 @10:39AM (#53715319)

    This reminds me of cheesy old movies and TV shows about primitive "cave men" constantly on the run from predatory dinosaurs -- Land of the Lost, Land That Time Forgot, etc. Except I think now we see that it would have been the dinosaurs doing the running, while the cave women back home got the BBQ pits warmed up.

  • by johannesg ( 664142 ) on Sunday January 22, 2017 @10:46AM (#53715357)

    Serene, peaceful, in tune with nature, never takes more than he gives... And wipes out numerous complete (and unique) species.

    Considering that Europeans still have to suffer demands for reparation for such things as slavery, colonisation, and the crusades, one cannot help but wonder if a demand for compensation for the irreparable damage to the ecosystem made by the aboriginals is also possible.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JoeMerchant ( 803320 )

      Yes, yes, humans 45,000 years ago were "bad" for the big animals, who knows, maybe they're the ones that turned the Outback into a desert, too; we're certain that humans desertified the fertile crescent more recently.

      However, modern man is so much more capable - we're scraping the oceans clean, and if we stay the course, we can bake the entire planet into the biggest and most thorough extinction event ever. 100 million years from now, the intelligent descendants of cockroaches will study our culture and ch

      • Actually I've been told that humans were bad for any animal under 200 pounds, but beyond that it was a lot less interesting because the hunters had to carry the loot. So as humans expanded over the planet and moved into new areas you could see all the middleweight species in those areas declining sharply and even going extinct in a very short time.

        I haven't looked it up though. I suspect that the case that comes to mind, of humans hunting mammoths, would only happen if humans were hunting in large groups. C

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        maybe they're the ones that turned the Outback into a desert

        There's some pretty old stuff in some of those deserts.
        From (http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/1301.0Feature%20Article32006)

        Although all of the southern hemisphere deserts are long-standing features of the environment, and took shape during the Miocene (24 million to 5 million years ago), they have responded to global and regional climate change during the Quaternary (the last 1.8 million years).

    • Missing hypothesis (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Sunday January 22, 2017 @05:13PM (#53717123) Journal

      Maybe the noble savage really is "serene, peaceful, in tune with nature, never takes more than he gives", precisely because their ancestors learned such a hard lesson and taught their descendants "don't mess up like we did". (I'm not saying it is so, just that it is consistent with the observation of prehistorical extinctions.)

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Only around a century back it became popular to discredit people in the past by calling them "flat earthers" but the reality was every sailor and plenty of others besides knew that the horizon was from the curve of the earth.
      In this case we have people being critical of a strawman with some sort of gold-plated noble savage thing going on. Meanwhile anyone who has heard of a boomerang knows of things like fire-stick farming where people changed the environment to better suit them.
      So IMHO the people doing th
  • Their fault (Score:5, Funny)

    by 50000BTU_barbecue ( 588132 ) on Sunday January 22, 2017 @10:53AM (#53715387) Journal

    They were probably delicious.

    • Actually, I think they were scary, and delicious. Fear drives some really violent reactions, I was thinking that humans were starting to get a mastery of their fear, until just recently.

    • That explains why they left the other nasties alone. After all Australia still has all of its 50 pound worms, 100 pound spiders, mosquitos the size of baseballs, snakes the size of oil pipelines, golfball sized versions of those fish that swim up your urinal tract, etc. All poisonous, spiky, slimy, smelly, and very very pissed off.
    • This. Humans hunted almost all big, meaty, slow-moving animals to extinction. Starting with the woolly mammoth. Seriously, a TWO TON wombat (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Vombatus_ursinus_-Maria_Island_National_Park.jpg)? Something like _4000_ person-days worth of food (not to mention pelts, bones, etc.) with no natural defenses? Delicious, easy kill. All were slain.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        a TWO TON wombat... Something like _4000_ person-days worth of food

        Humans probably hunted mostly juveniles, not adults. Juveniles are safer targets. And, killing off most of the juveniles easily leads to extinction.

        • a TWO TON wombat... Something like _4000_ person-days worth of food

          Humans probably hunted mostly juveniles, not adults. Juveniles are safer targets.

          oh, dear, no.

          Wombats are fairly placid creatures.. until you come between them and their babies. Then they turn into raging monsters.

          "Ha, ha, what's it going to do? It's a herbivore!"

          What's it going to do? Have a friend throw a sack of cement at your legs. The impact will be similar to what it's going to do

          • Except in this case it's have a friend throw a car at you.
          • "Have a friend throw a sack of cement at your legs" Hey, I quit that job last year.
          • Wombats are fairly placid creatures.. until you come between them and their babies. Then they turn into raging monsters.

            So you don't do that. You sneak up on the juvenile's side of the adult, throw a spear into the juvenile, and run away. Repeat until the juvenile dies. While you're running away, your colleagues in the ambush pop up and throw spear at juvenile or adult. Eventually one or other of the animals stops running, when you continue chucking spears at it until it dies. The other animal - probably t

      • This. Humans hunted almost all big, meaty, slow-moving animals to extinction. Starting with the woolly mammoth. Seriously, a TWO TON wombat (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Vombatus_ursinus_-Maria_Island_National_Park.jpg)? Something like _4000_ person-days worth of food (not to mention pelts, bones, etc.) with no natural defenses? Delicious, easy kill. All were slain.

        Plus they probably rotted up long before they could be fully eaten, and then you had to get another.

        • by dywolf ( 2673597 )

          human civilization has a lot of clever ways of preserving food, especially meat, that long predate refrigerators.

          3 methods of preservation that predate civilization:
          -sun drying
          -smoking
          -sealed packets in a mountain lake/stream (unsealed occurred too, but only as very short term storage as it tended to be eaten by critters)

      • I live in the last major landmass on Earth to be colonized by humans, and it has no native mammals at all

        It did have birds however, and they had evolved into the ecological niches that mammals took in other places

        That meant (among other things) 3.5 metre, 220 KG birds evolved to browse trees like deer do in Europe. They were wiped out so quickly that when Europeans came along 350 years later the locals had lost all memory of the super-chickens they had eaten.

        I think it's just the way humans react to any

        • I bet someone in Antarctica has raised a crop (of weed) in a closet. That should qualify as colonization.

          McMurdo thunderfuck?

        • Um, New Zealand mega fauna was wiped out by the Mauries.

          But the Oz possums are doing great!

    • They were probably delicious.

      i kind of doubt it, if they ate Eucalyptus leaves. your taste may differ, if it runs to cough syrup.

  • by quonset ( 4839537 ) on Sunday January 22, 2017 @11:04AM (#53715435)

    We can look to our recent history and see the same extinction process created by man. The passenger pigeon, Tasmanian tiger, the Dodo, Great auk, Quaggas, Carolina parakeet and so on. Even today there are several species who are literally on the brink of going extinct, including the northern white rhino of which the last known male of its species is under 24 hour guard to protect it from poachers. Had it not been for Teddy Roosevelt, the American bison would most likely also be extinct, slaughtered by the literal tens of thousands as short as 130 years ago.

    Man-made extinction also occurs in human populations. How many different Native American tribes were exterminated either because of Europeans or their Native American allies? How about those of Central and South America or those in the Far East?

    We can see the same extinction process in places like Borneo where the habitat of orangutans is being wiped out due to illegal farming or clear cutting for palm oil trees, and similar processes under way in Madagascar where many animals exist in no other place on the planet, such as the ring-tailed lemur of which only an estimated 2,500 still survive.

    Anyone who says man doesn't and can't have an effect on the environment is simply blind to reality.

  • Maybe the headline should read, "Researchers confirm tradition theory of megafauna extinction - "We ate them.""?
  • Hmph. Fossils show that fauna have been becoming extinct for millions of years, therefore it can't be anthropogenic. It's just part of cyclical nature. Did these so called scientists ever investigate whether the sun was the cause of these extinctions? No, that would be too simple and obvious and would not fit their predefined liberal antihunting agenda. This is just a ploy by the paleontologists to keep the grant money coming in. They can't explain why there has been a pause in the extinction of megafauna f

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