The evidence increasingly favors a larger role for the Younger Dryas climate event, and a smaller role for over hunting in North American megafauna extinctions.
The disappearance of many North American megafauna at the end of the Pleistocene is a contentious topic. While the proposed causes for megafaunal extinction are varied, most researchers fall into three broad camps emphasizing human overhunting, climate change, or some combination of the two. Understanding the cause of megafaunal extinctions requires the analysis of through-time relationships between climate change and megafauna and human population dynamics. To do so, many researchers have used summed probability density functions (SPDFs) as a proxy for through-time fluctuations in human and megafauna population sizes. SPDFs, however, conflate process variation with the chronological uncertainty inherent in radiocarbon dates. Recently, a new Bayesian regression technique was developed that overcomes this problem—Radiocarbon-dated Event-Count (REC) Modelling.
Here we employ REC models to test whether declines in North American megafauna species could be best explained by climate changes, increases in human population densities, or both, using the largest available database of megafauna and human radiocarbon dates. Our results suggest that there is currently no evidence for a persistent through-time relationship between human and megafauna population levels in North America. There is, however, evidence that decreases in global temperature correlated with megafauna population declines.