Microscopic Evidence Sheds Light on Megafauna Extinctions

A new article published in BioScience emphasizes contributions from five different approaches: radiocarbon dating, stable isotope analysis, ancient DNA, ancient proteins, and microscopy. These techniques can offer robust, high-resolution insights into climate change and extinction chronologies, past habitat transformations, ecological relationships, and species diet and ranging. (Michelle O’Reilly, MPI-SHH)

(CN) – As the world grapples with climate change, scientists are studying the extinction of the world’s largest mammals during the Ice Age to look for answers about Earth’s future.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Bioscience, scientists from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History challenge generalizations about these extinctions and use new approaches to understand how changes in the environment caused these mammal populations to disappear.

This study was a collaborative effort between the leading experts in megafaunal extinctions from around the globe. Lead author Jillian Swift emphasized how important it is to analyze human impacts on Earth systems in order to make future conservation decisions.

Each extinction holds its own mystery tied to species-specific factors including the mammal’s habitat, diet, population size, and its overall way of life.

Co-author Patrick Roberts said that extinction theories generally assume that human hunting and environmental changes have equal and devastating impacts on animal populations. This archaeological approach, however, allows for a more well-rounded and clear explanation for the complex causes of extinction.

The researchers used findings from five different approaches to get the clearest picture of extinction patterns possible. Using radiocarbon dating, stable isotope analysis, analyzing ancient DNA and ancient proteins, and microscopy allowed scientists to analyze what causes a population to go extinct, and to glean new insights into what the environment was like at the time of a species’ demise.

Co-author Nicole Boivin stresses that large looming questions such as megafaunal extinctions require interdisciplinary collaboration to create the most comprehensive picture of environmental issues from the past that pose very real threats today. Scientists can now get a never seen, in-depth look at the causes of extinction and apply these new understandings to current animal conservation efforts.

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