Why and how did Pleistocene megafauna go extinct?

27 05 2010

Just a quick post to say that I’m currently at Duke University in the USA attending a special National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre ‘Catalysis Meeting’ entitled: Integrating datasets to investigate megafaunal extinction in the Late Quaternary.

The meeting is basically about nailing down some of the remaining mysteries and controversies surrounding the extinction of many species during periods of rapid climate change 11-60 thousand years ago.

It’s been fun so far, and a lot of exciting analysis will ensue, but for the meantime I’ll just summarise what we’re trying to do.

The end of the Pleistocene (roughly 60,000 – 11,000 years ago) was characterised by the selective extinction of much of the world’’s megafauna (terrestrial vertebrates > 44 kg), including most of the large herbivores and carnivores from North America, Beringia, and South America. Large-scale extinctions are an important but still poorly understood evolutionary phenomenon and they do not always appear to correspond with major climatic or stratigraphic boundaries. As a consequence, there is great interest in how such extinctions occurred in the past and how they might occur again in the future, especially the mechanisms by which ecological systems rapidly become severely disrupted. The late Pleistocene extinctions provide an ideal example for investigation since the events are very recent, allowing the application of a variety of dating, modelling, and genetic analyses. Advances in molecular analysis and interpretation (including ancient DNA), the development of paleoclimatic, paleoenvironmental and archaeological databases, and refinements in climate niche modelling provide new tools and insights with which to study the timing, spatial patterns and environmental conditions of the extinctions. This meeting will bring together experts from a wide range of scientific fields to present geo-referenced datasets from across the world, and to apply new data synthesis and analysis approaches. The major goal will be to develop a conceptual and practical framework allowing the integration of data sets from disparate fields to investigate how large animals around the world became extinct.

Much more to follow.

CJA Bradshaw

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One response

11 01 2012
When did it go extinct? « ConservationBytes.com

[…] Turney and Barry Brook when we were discussing the uncertainties associated with the timing of megafauna extinctions – you might be aware that traditionally there have been two schools of thought on […]


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