Humans Hunted Australian Megafauna to Death Say Researchers

Posted on March 22, 2012

Sthenurus Drawing

Researchers say it was the arrival of humans in Australia that led to the extinction of Australia's megafauna, such as the 330-pound Sthenurus, an extinct giant browsing kangaroo. The researchers say humans hunted the animals to extinction and that this was the cause of their demise and not climate change. The megafauna vanished about 40,000 years ago after humans arrived on the continent.

John Alroy, a paleobiologist with Sydney's Macquarie University, told The Australian, "The debate really should be over now. Hunting did it, end of story."

The researchers used a used a high-resolution 130,000-year environmental record to help resolve the cause and reconstruct the ecological consequences of extinction of Australia's megafauna. The researchers say humans killed off the large Australian creatures, which led to a change in the vegetation and increased wildfires. The researchers say the megafaunal extinction "triggered replacement of mixed rainforest by sclerophyll vegetation through a combination of direct effects on vegetation of relaxed herbivore pressure and increased fire in the landscape."

LiveScience reports that Australia's megafauna included at least 55 giant animals, including a 6,000-pound rhinoceros wombat.

The research paper, "The Aftermath of Megafaunal Extinction: Ecosystem Transformation in Pleistocene Australia," by Susan Rule, was publsihed here in Science Magazine.

Image: Peter Murray/Science/AAAS

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