Date:

On the hunt for megafauna in North America

Research from Curtin University has found that pre-historic climate change does not explain the extinction of megafauna in North America at the end of the last Ice Age.

The research, published today in Nature Communications, analysed ancient DNA from bone fragments and soil found inside Hall’s Cave, located in central Texas. The researchers discovered important genetic clues to the past biodiversity in North America and provided new insights into the causes of animal extinctions during the Ice Age.

- Advertisement -

The research was an international collaboration between Curtin University, University of Texas-Austin, Texas A&M University and Stafford Research Labs.

Lead researcher Mr Frederik Seersholm, Forrest Foundation Scholar and PhD candidate from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, said the analysis tracks how biodiversity in Texas changed as temperatures dropped, and then recovered around 13,000 years ago.

“At the end of the last ice-age, Earth experienced drastic climate changes that significantly altered plant and animal biodiversity. In North America these changes coincided with the arrival of humans,” Mr Seersholm said.

“When we combined our new data with existing fossil studies in the region, we obtained a detailed picture of the biodiversity turnover against the backdrop of both human predation and pre-historic climate changes.

- Advertisement -

“Our findings show that while plant diversity recovered as the climate warmed, large animal diversity did not recover.

“Of the large-bodied animals, known as megafauna, identified at the cave, nine became extinct and five disappeared permanently from the region.

“In contrast, small animals which are not believed to have been hunted intensely by humans, adapted well to the changing climate by migrating. Hence, the data suggests a factor other than climate may have contributed to the extinction of the large mammals.”

While the research team acknowledges it is difficult to assess the exact impact of human hunting on the megafauna, they believe there is now sufficient evidence to suggest our ancestors were the main driver of the disappearance of ice age species such as the mammoth and sabre-toothed cat.

Mr Seersholm said the findings demonstrate how much information is stored in seemingly insignificant bone fragments.

“The study builds on years of research at Hall’s cave, which have helped shape our understanding of the North American megafauna since the first analyses were conducted in the 1990s,” Mr Seersholm said.

“By combining new genetic methods with classic stratigraphy and vertebrate palaeontology, our research adds to this story.

“We found that while small mammals and plants in the region seemed to be able to cope fine with the changing climate, the megafauna did not. Because humans are the only other major factor, we hypothesise that human hunting of megafauna was the driving force of the animals’ decline.”

CURTIN UNIVERSITY

Header Image – Researchers analysed ancient DNA from bone fragments and soil found inside Hall’s Cave, located in central Texas. Image Credit : Curtin University, Mike Bunce

- Advertisement -
spot_img
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
spot_img

Mobile Application

spot_img

Related Articles

Bronze fitting depicting Alexander the Great found on Danish Island

Archaeologists have discovered a bronze fitting depicting Alexander the Great on the Danish island of Zealand.

Archaeologists uncover exquisite Roman glassware in Nîmes

An exquisite collection of glassware dating from the Roman period has been uncovered by INRAP archaeologists in the French city of Nîmes.

Frescos discovery among the finest uncovered at Roman Pompeii

A collection of frescos recently discovered at the Roman city of Pompeii have been described as among the finest found by archaeologists.

Study suggests that Egyptian sky-goddess symbolises the Milky Way

In Ancient Egyptian religion, Nut was the celestial goddess of the sky, stars, the cosmos, astronomy, and the universe in its whole.

Traces of Kettering’s wartime history rediscovered

Researchers from the Sywell Aviation Museum have announced the rediscovery of a preserved WW2 air raid shelter in Kettering, England.

Earthen pot containing 3,730 lead coins found at Phanigiri

Archaeologists from the Department of Archaeology have discovered an earthen pot containing a hoard of 3,730 lead coins at the Buddhist site of Phanigiri, located in Suryapet district, India.

Bronze lamp revealed as cult object associated with Dionysus

A study of a bronze lamp found near the town of Cortona, Italy, has revealed that it was an object associated with the mystery cult of Dionysus.

Neolithic coastal settlements were resilient in the face of climate change

A study of the submerged site of Habonim North indicates that Neolithic coastal settlements were resilient in the face of climate change.