PerspectivePaleontology

Debating Extinction

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Science  08 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5399, pp. 182-183
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5399.182

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Summary

Where have the wild things gone? A host of strange creatures used to walk Earth, including carnivorous kangaroos, giant lizards, and tortoises the size of cars, but they are now extinct. The reasons are debated but settle into two competing explanations: The extinctions are either due to climate change or, alternatively, human hunting. In his Perspective, Flannery discusses results reported in the same issue by Miller et al. showing that the giant Genyornis bird of Australia went extinct around 50,000 years ago, about the time of the first arrival of humans. This weakens the case for climate change as the agent of extinction, but final resolution of the argument will await better data on extinction of other species as well.