Vertebrate records: Late Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions.

Scott Elias, Danielle Schreve

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During and after the last glaciation (i.e., during the last 100 000 years), many large-bodied vertebrate species (the so-called Pleistocene megafauna) died out. This megafaunal extinction reduced by more than half the number of large-bodied mammals in the world, including large herbivores, predators, and scavengers. Australia lost 86% of its Pleistocene megafauna, mostly between 50 000 and 40 000 years ago, about the time that people arrived there. South America lost 80% of its megafauna, mostly during the Late Glacial interval. North America lost 73% of its megafauna, also during the Late Glacial interval. The timing of New World human habitation is controversial, but the most widely accepted view is that most of the New World megafaunal extinctions took place just as people arrived in the Americas.

The principal two opposing views concerning the cause of these extinctions are that (1) human predation was the most important element in the megafaunal demise, or that (2) environmental change was responsible for these extinctions. We suggest a third possibility, that environmental change (especially in the New World) had diminished megafaunal populations during the Late Glacial, and that human predation may have delivered the coup de grâce that precipitated the extinctions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Quaternary Science
EditorsScott Elias
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)978-0-444-53642-6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2013


  • Africa; Asia; Australia; Europe; Extinction; Megafauna; North America; Overkill hypothesis; Pleistocene; South America

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