Assessing the causes of late Pleistocene extinctions on the continents

Science. 2004 Oct 1;306(5693):70-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1101476.


One of the great debates about extinction is whether humans or climatic change caused the demise of the Pleistocene megafauna. Evidence from paleontology, climatology, archaeology, and ecology now supports the idea that humans contributed to extinction on some continents, but human hunting was not solely responsible for the pattern of extinction everywhere. Instead, evidence suggests that the intersection of human impacts with pronounced climatic change drove the precise timing and geography of extinction in the Northern Hemisphere. The story from the Southern Hemisphere is still unfolding. New evidence from Australia supports the view that humans helped cause extinctions there, but the correlation with climate is weak or contested. Firmer chronologies, more realistic ecological models, and regional paleoecological insights still are needed to understand details of the worldwide extinction pattern and the population dynamics of the species involved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Archaeology
  • Climate
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Ecosystem*
  • Human Activities
  • Humans
  • Paleontology*
  • Population Dynamics*
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Time