Early Humans Not Climate Change Responsible For Australian Megafauna Extinctions

  • Date: 12/02/16
  • Charlotte Mortlock, Daily Mail

The giant beasts that roamed Australia 45,000 years ago were wiped out by the continent’s first humans and not by climate change, as was previously thought.

New scientific evidence suggests megafauna – a term used to describe giant animal species – started to die out when humans first arrived on the Sahul landmass that Australia was once part of.

Professor Michael Bird, from James Cook University in Queensland, said hunting by humans is the most logical and probable cause for the giant prehistoric animals dying off.

One of the animals now extinct include the giant short-faced kangaroo, known as 'procoptodon', weighing in at 230 kilograms

One of the animals now extinct include the giant short-faced kangaroo, known as ‘procoptodon’, weighing in at 230 kilograms

‘We found the climate wasn’t doing anything it hadn’t done before… and there was a close link between humans and megafauna extinction, Prof Bird co-wrote in a new paper released on Friday.

‘Today, Sahul has no native terrestrial animal larger than about 40 kg, but for much of the Pleistocene it supported diverse large vertebrates up to almost 3 tonnes. The overkill hypothesis proposes that human hunting drove these animals extinct.’

The Sahul landmass has since split into the Australian mainland, Tasmania and Papua New Guinea.

Australian megafauna existed in the Pleistocene period, which stretched from 1.8 million years ago up until 45,000 years ago, and included a two-metre tall wombat-like creature that weighed three tonnes, a 230kg snub-faced kangaroo and a giant, flightless bird.

Standing at two metres tall and 220 kilograms heavy, the Genyronis Newtoni bird was too big to fly

Standing at two metres tall and 220 kilograms heavy, the Genyronis Newtoni bird was too big to fly

Professor Bird explained that the scientists were not suggesting ‘people came and started killing everything’.

‘But when people get involved in population dynamics, through things like hunting, taking eggs and killing juveniles, it affects things over time,’ he said.

The paper will no doubt be controversial, as it debunks a previously popular notion that a drying climate was accountable for the wipe out.

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