Extinction of eastern Sahul megafauna coincides with sustained environmental deterioration
© Arthur Dorety/Stocktrek Images
Humans may not be entirely to blame for the disappearance of Australia’s biggest prehistoric beasts.
Previous explanations for megafauna mass extinctions in Australia and New Guinea nearly 42,000 years ago have been based on sparse archaeological records.
A team that included researchers from the University of Adelaide analysed an array of fossils uncovered at South Walker Creek in northeastern Australia. They identified at least 16 megafaunas species, from giant monitor lizards to the world’s biggest kangaroo, which only began to vanish around 40,000 years ago. According to plant fossils and charcoal particles from the region, this disappearance coincided with a drying climate, a reduction of grassland, and more intense forest fires.
The range of species is more diverse than at southern Australian sites of a similar age, contradicting theories that humans hunted these animals to extinction while migrating north to south. Extinctions around this time may therefore require more complex, environmental explanations.
- Nature Communications 11, 2250 (2020). doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-15785-w