Skip to comments.'Fires wiped out' ancient mammals
Posted on 07/08/2005 9:39:15 AM PDT by LibWhacker
The first humans to arrive in Australia destroyed the pristine landscape, probably by lighting huge fires, the latest research suggests.
The evidence, published in Science magazine, comes from ancient eggshells.
These show birds changed their diets drastically when humans came on the scene, switching from grass to the type of plants that thrive on scrubland.
The study supports others that have blamed humans for mass extinctions across the world 10-50,000 years ago.
Many scientists believe the causes are actually more complex and relate to climate changes during that period, but, according to Dr Marilyn Fogel, of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, US, chemical clues gleaned from the eggshells suggest otherwise.
"Humans are the major suspect," she said. "However, we don't think that over-hunting or new diseases are to blame for the extinctions, because our research sees the ecological transition at the base of the food chain.
"Bands of people set large-scale fires for a variety of reasons including hunting, clearing and signalling other bands.
"Based on the evidence, human-induced change in the vegetation is the best fit to explain what happened at that critical juncture."
Dr Fogel's team, based in the US and Australia, examined hundreds of fragments of fossilised eggshells found at several sites in Australia's interior dating back over 140,000 years.
They looked at the indigenous emu and the Genyornis, a flightless bird the size of an ostrich that is now extinct.
The type of carbon preserved in eggshells gives a picture of the food the birds ate.
Before 50,000 years ago, emus pecked at nutritious grasses. But after humans arrived, about 45,000 years ago, they switched to a diet of trees and scrubs. Genyornis, however, failed to adapt and died out.
"The opportunistic feeders adapted and the picky eaters went extinct," said Professor Gifford Miller, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, US.
"The most parsimonious explanation is these birds were responding to an unprecedented change in the vegetation over the continent during that time period."
The data sheds light on the contentious issue of what led to the extinction of 85% of Australia's large mammals, birds and reptiles, after about 50,000 years ago, when human settlers arrived by sea from Indonesia.
Climate change theory
Mass extinctions on other continents also coincide with the arrival of modern humans, suggesting the two events are linked.
In North America, for example, the disappearance of the likes of mammoths and ground sloths is coincident with the arrival on the landmass of new stone-spear technologies carried by humans about 12,000 years ago.
But at the time the first settlers reached Australia there is no evidence of significant fluctuations in climate - they came later.
However, Clive Trueman of the University of Portsmouth, UK, disagrees.
He says some large mammals survived long after the sudden changes in vegetation identified by Dr Fogel's team.
"While there may be a connection between the arrival of humans and changes in vegetation, as demonstrated by carbon isotopes, sudden changes cannot be largely responsible for megafaunal extinctions as the beasts survived for at least 15,000 more years," he told the BBC News website.
"It is likely that extinctions were not caused by any single event, but reflect compounding factors such as natural climate changes associated with the Ice Age fluctuations and, quite possibly, the arrival of humans."
It's all Bush's fault.
"It's all Bush's fault."
I agree. :)
when does the trial begin?
Have they been looking in my trash again?
DDT hadn't be outlawed during that time.
The first humans to arrive in Australia destroyed the pristine landscape...
No, that can't be; only European settlers damaged the environment wherever they went. Indigenous people never hurt anything. /sarc
That's it, blame the Black Fellows.
The Kyoto Treaty could have prevented this horrible release of greenhouse gases.
Prepare the Wayback Machine and the Chrono-Lawyers!
I guess we attract lightning?? /rolling eyes here....
***The first humans to arrive in Australia destroyed the pristine landscape, ***
AHA! Proof at last that the evil white man was there first! (Sarcasm off)
No wonder the Deep Ecology types want to wipe out the human race - we're all, black and white, just a bunch of anarcho-arsonist vandals!
Oh, wait a minute, that's their gig.
What to think!
To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list. Thanks.Pleistocene Extinction of Genyornis newtoni:More than 85 percent of Australian terrestrial genera with a body mass exceeding 44 kilograms became extinct in the Late Pleistocene. Although most were marsupials, the list includes the large, flightless mihirung Genyornis newtoni. More than 700 dates on Genyornis eggshells from three different climate regions document the continuous presence of Genyornis from more than 100,000 years ago until their sudden disappearance 50,000 years ago, about the same time that humans arrived in Australia. Simultaneous extinction of Genyornis at all sites during an interval of modest climate change implies that human impact, not climate, was responsible.
Human Impact on Australian Megafauna
Gifford H. Miller, John W. Magee,
Beverly J. Johnson, Marilyn L. Fogel,
Nigel A. Spooner, Malcolm T. McCulloch,
Linda K. Ayliffe
Jan 8 1999
Science, Volume 283, Number 5399 Issue of 8 Jan 1999, pp. 205 - 208
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Sounds like the first humans in Australia were U.S. Forest Service bureaucrats.
The same thing was said about North America when the humans got here 12,000 years ago.
Now that we've found 30-40,000 year old human foot prints in Mexico, what killed the large mammals off 12,000 year ago, huh?
That being said, if man did set fires for the reasons stated one has to ask how dense was the human population? Enough to impact the whole species in all areas? If fires got out of control then that would suggest an environment that is conducive to natural causes for fires. So even though the title is a possibility, the absolute statement that man is in fact the lone and sole cause is malarkey. Yes I have read the concluding sentence:
It is likely that extinctions were not caused by any single event, but reflect compounding factors such as natural climate changes associated with the Ice Age fluctuations and, quite possibly, the arrival of humans."
This should have been the introduction IMO if an article of this type is to be take seriously.
That's a whole lot better than just willy nilly blowing it off. Thanks.
Once upon a time, science was about the search for truth. Then, government funding became involved and science has become the hunt for unending research grants. If not, why does every government research study end with "the results are inconclusive, we need more time (they say, but they actually mean money) to fully research the issue."
In the middle of Australia there is a group of three or four meteorite craters called the Henley craters. They're like the Arizona meteorite crater -- not so big, but there are several of them -- and, like in Arizona, the land was scattered with pieces of iron meteorite. I think the [inaudible] dating very slow growing desert plants. They believe that the date is about 5000 years ago -- the formation of the craters. The Aboriginal name for this area is the "Place Where The Sun Walked on the Earth" -- they must have seen it!
Could the fires have been ignited due to wars between tribes? One band of tribes bent on burning the other out, all over the territory.
If it was just from careless campfires, it sounds like the place was a tinderbox already and some well placed lightning could have easily done the same job.
All are possibilities, and how could one a person determine the exact time and cause of such occurrences? It is also possible that it wasn't fire at all. That is why when you read these articles you will always see terms like "best fit". I don't mind research and speculation but the first line in the article is quite pathetic and speaks towards todays politics rather than any science. The big mistake people make when reading this "malarkey" is they take the statement of two events occurring at that same time and automatically accept that they are connected. It is kind of like what linear regression analysis is to todays scare mongering, essentially made up information to support a position, not exactly the same but a lack of cause and effect science to be sure.
The writer should study the progression of flora on CRP land in the US prairie regions. It seems that trees and scrub flourish best in areas where the grass has neither been grazed nor burned. Fires commonly only lead to regrowth of native grasses without competition from scrub.