Killing Off the Megafauna Put the Earth at risk

 There is to be a conference at Oxford University this week. The subject of debate will be one of the greatest mysteries in palaeontology – whether it was human activity or climate changes that saw the extinctions of some of the strangest animals ever to walk the Earth.

Back then, some ten to twenty thousand years ago, when humans were invading all areas of the globe, there were indeed major changes to the climate, but creatures that had flourished for untold millennia began to die out. These included car-size Armadillos (glyptodon), Bear size Sloths (megatherium and Hippo size Wombats (diprotodon), but the disappearance of such so-called megafauna has baffled paleontologists for many years.

No doubt this intriguing mystery will lie at the heart of the discussions, because history tells the scientists that what are regarded as modern humans first emerged from Africa around 70,000 years ago. Within twenty thousand years they had reached as far east as Australia – a time when megafauna disappearances began in that part of the world.

  

It was some thirty thousand years after that before humans reached North America, which they reached overland via a then existing connection between Siberia and Alaska, and by ten thousand years ago, all of the Americas had been reached, and again megafauna extinctions increased, though yet again, in this period, severe and massive climate change was taking place.

 

Conference organiser and Oxford professor of ecosystem science Yadvinder Malhi, commented that it seemed too much of a coincidence that human arrivals on a large scale occurred just before these animals began to vanish, having previously endured millions of years of climate changes, but without ever having had human contact.

 

Up to only ten thousand years ago, very recent in paleological terms, enormous beasts  creatures thrived in old-world  Australia and the Americas, and had done so for millennia, so why, suddenly, did they all begin to die off? One theory is that these creatures, unfortunately for them, had no fear of predatory humanity, so they would have made easy pickings for hunters. Though climate change may have also played a part, and when, within a few thousand years, humans had developed agriculture, all animal relationships with nature were thrown out of kilter.

Humanity slowly but surely lost the close affinity with nature that they had once enjoyed, and today it is still paying the price. The research suggests that the now extinct species of megafauna  played a key role in spreading nutrition around the globe. A good example is that of the Giant Wombat, believed to have eaten bush across Australia, suppressing biomass levels, but once they had gone, major bush fires became a serious problem, which still plague Australia to this day.

It is now firmly believed that much of human understanding of ecology is incomplete, simply through the fact of the disappearance from ecosystems the magafauna that was specially adapted to it, meaning that modern natural systems might well be missing key components. The simple truth is that we humans have a duty to protect the megafauna that we have, such as the much hunted Elephant, because we now know that removing them can very adversely affects the whole ecosystem, and quite possibly lead to our own demise as a species.

 


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