Hundreds of large mammal species died in the last major extinction event, during the period of transition from the last glaciation to the present interglacial period, about 30,000 to 5,000 years ago.
We are researching the cause of megfauna extinction looking at the effects of
Until recently we have concentrated on species from Europe and northern Asia, plus some from North America, focusing on:
Other collaborators at the University of Southampton are collating thousands of archaeological records of human presence over the same period, to establish if range shrinkage or extinction of the mammals was related to the spread and density of prehistoric humans.
We have found that for many species the dramatic shifts of vegetation as the last ice age came to an end had major effects on their ranges, often ultimately shrinking them down to small, vulnerable populations, and left them vulnerable to human predation.
Neither effect alone would have caused such widespread extinctions.
A Before 40,000 years ago, the range of the woolly rhinoceros covered much of northern Eurasia.
B During the last glacial maximum, between 27,000 and 20,000 years ago, the species still occupied a wide range but had retreated from Western Europe.
C As the climate began to warm, between 15,000 and 14,000 years ago, the species’ range contracted further to the East.
D By 13,000 years ago, as forests replaced its grassland habitat, the woolly rhinoceros was extinct.
Each red dot indicates a radiocarbon-dated fossil. Grey areas are ice sheets. Present-day coastlines are shown superimposed on past land areas.
The vertical scale is in thousands of years before present.
Green bars show the known time-span (from 40,000 years ago) of a range of large mammals: Ursus spelaeus (cave bear),Crocuta crocuta (spotted hyaena), Coelodonta antiquitatis (woolly rhinoceros), Mammuthus primigenius (woolly mammoth), Megaloceros giganteus (giant deer), Panthera spelaea (‘cave’ lion), Ovibos moschatus (musk-ox).
C. crocuta survives in Africa and O. moschatus in Greenland; the other species are globally extinct.
Time-ranges for neandertals (Homo neanderthalensis) and modern humans (H. sapiens) are also shown.
GS are cold periods; GI and Holocene are warm periods.© Cave bear image Ó N Frotzler. Other images Ó A. Mangione, B. Sala, and Superintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell’Umbria
Not all species went extinct at the same time or due to the same combination of causes.
We are now:
This work is relevant to understanding the vulnerability of different species to habitat loss and poaching today.