March 24, 2012 by staff
Hunting Megafauna, A new study on the hotly-debated mystery, published in Science, blames humans rather than climate change for the demise of the massive plant-eating animals such as 300-kilogram kangaroos, birds that were twice the size of emus and a leopard-sized marsupial lion. Various theories have been promoted to explain the demise of the megafauna, including the use of fire and climate change.
“The debate really should be over now,” said John Alroy, from Sydney’s Macquarie University. “Hunting did it, end of story.”
The team of scientists claims to have solved the mystery by studying fungi found in the dung of large herbivores. Thy examined two cores of sediment from a fossilized swamp in Queensland dating back 130,000 years.
“When there was lots of fungus, there was lots of dung and lots of big animals making it,” said Professor Chris Johnson, from the University of Tasmania. “When they disappeared, their dung fungus went too.”
The researchers found that megafauna numbers were stable until 40,000 years ago despite two periods of climate change. They conclude that newly-arrived humans hunted the animals to extinction and that the reduced grazing caused an increase in fuel loads and the intensity of fires.
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