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Review
. 2016 Feb 10;283(1824):20152399.
doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.2399.

What Caused Extinction of the Pleistocene Megafauna of Sahul?

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Free PMC article
Review

What Caused Extinction of the Pleistocene Megafauna of Sahul?

C N Johnson et al. Proc Biol Sci. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

During the Pleistocene, Australia and New Guinea supported a rich assemblage of large vertebrates. Why these animals disappeared has been debated for more than a century and remains controversial. Previous synthetic reviews of this problem have typically focused heavily on particular types of evidence, such as the dating of extinction and human arrival, and have frequently ignored uncertainties and biases that can lead to misinterpretation of this evidence. Here, we review diverse evidence bearing on this issue and conclude that, although many knowledge gaps remain, multiple independent lines of evidence point to direct human impact as the most likely cause of extinction.

Keywords: archeology; climate change; human impacts; palaeoecology; prehistory; quaternary.

Figures

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Time-series of dated specimens of Diprotodon sp., arranged in sequence from youngest to oldest, with ±1 s.d. High-reliability dates [38] are black and low-quality dates grey; youngest reliable date is arrowed. Diprotodon sketch by Peter Murray.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
Trends in variability of temperature in the EPICA Dome C core over the last 450 000 years. (a) ER for linear trend in mean deviation in EPICA δD (δ deuterium = a proxy for temperature: more negative values indicate lower temperatures) from 450 to 24 ka (formula image indicates evidence for linear trend) across sampling intervals of increasing width; also shown is the mean trend slope (β) per sampling interval width; (b) example EPICA temperature series resampled at a constant window of 600 years from present back to 450 ka; and (c) average and 95 percentile mean deviation of temperature within the four interstadials since 450 ka.
Figure 3.
Figure 3.
Relative abundance of eggshells of Genyornis and emu Dromaius novaehollandiae through the last glacial cycle: (a) and (b) numbers of dated samples from Genyornis and emu, respectively, from [24]. (c) Ratio of frequencies of Genyornis to emu samples, with 95% confidence intervals, calculated using a moving window (scaled to density of samples) to generate a smoothed curve.

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