Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Australia's Megafauna Extinctions: Cause and Effect

By various experts

Australian research has found new evidence that human hunters were primarily responsible for the disappearance of Australia’s giant vertebrates about 40,000 years ago, and concluded that the extinctions caused changes to the Australian landscape.

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“We are excited by this research not just because it helps us to understand why Australia's megafauna went extinct. More importantly, it moves the question on by focusing on the ecological impacts of that extinction. Big animals have big impacts on plants. It follows that removing big animals should produce significant changes in vegetation.

"Twenty years ago, Tim Flannery argued that one of the results of megafaunal extinction was increased fire in Australian landscapes, as fine plant matter that would have been eaten by giant kangaroos, Diprotodons etc. accumulated and provided fuel for wildfires.

"Our results suggest that he may have been right, at least for some places. They also suggest that as well as releasing fire, taking out big herbivores had direct effects on the structure and composition of vegetation, making it more dense and uniform. Getting a better understanding of how environments across Australia changed as a result of megafaunal extinction is a big and interesting challenge, and will help us to understand the dynamics of contemporary Australian ecosystems.”

Chris Johnson is lead author of the research paper, and a Professor of Wildlife Conservation & ARC Australian Professorial Fellow in the University of Tasmania’s School of Zoology.


“This is an important contribution to our understanding of...

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Source: AusSMC