Sunday, February 28, 2021

North American Megafauna Extinction Driven Mostly By Younger Dryas

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. 

"Megafauna populations appear to have been increasing as North American began to warm around 14,700 years ago," states Stewart. "But we then see a shift in this trend around 12,900 years ago as North America began to drastically cool, and shortly after this we begin to see the extinctions of megafauna occur."

And while these findings suggest that the return to near glacial conditions around 12,900 years ago was the proximate cause for the extinctions, the story is likely to be more complicated than this.

"We must consider the ecological changes associated with these climate changes at both a continental and regional scale if we want to have a proper understanding of what drove these extinctions," explains group leader Huw Groucutt, senior author of the study. "Humans also aren't completely off the hook, as it remains possible that they played a more nuanced role in the megafauna extinctions than simple overkill models suggest."

Many researchers have argued that it is an impossible coincidence that megafauna extinctions around the world often happened around the time of human arrival. However, it is important to scientifically demonstrate that there was a relationship, and even if there was, the causes may have been much more indirect (such as through habitat modification) than a killing frenzy as humans arrived in a region.

From Science Daily.

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.
Stewart, M., Carleton, W. C., Groucutt, H. S. "Climate change, not human population growth, correlates with Late Quaternary megafauna declines in North America." Nature Communications (February 16, 2021).  DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-21201-8

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