Ecosystem collapse in Pleistocene Australia and a human role in megafaunal extinction

Science. 2005 Jul 8;309(5732):287-90. doi: 10.1126/science.1111288.


Most of Australia's largest mammals became extinct 50,000 to 45,000 years ago, shortly after humans colonized the continent. Without exceptional climate change at that time, a human cause is inferred, but a mechanism remains elusive. A 140,000-year record of dietary delta(13)C documents a permanent reduction in food sources available to the Australian emu, beginning about the time of human colonization; a change replicated at three widely separated sites and in the marsupial wombat. We speculate that human firing of landscapes rapidly converted a drought-adapted mosaic of trees, shrubs, and nutritious grasslands to the modern fire-adapted desert scrub. Animals that could adapt survived; those that could not, became extinct.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Anthropology
  • Australia
  • Biomass
  • Birds*
  • Calcium Carbonate / chemistry
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Climate
  • Dental Enamel / chemistry
  • Diet*
  • Dromaiidae
  • Durapatite / chemistry
  • Ecosystem*
  • Egg Shell / chemistry
  • Environment
  • Fires
  • Food Chain*
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Mammals*
  • Marsupialia
  • Plants*
  • Poaceae
  • Population Dynamics
  • Trees


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Durapatite
  • Calcium Carbonate