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In the last few thousand years, the arrival of humans in new territory almost always brought overhunting, habitat destruction, or invasive species that killed off native creatures. Nowhere did this seem truer than on islands, with their limited resources and naïve prey. But evidence presented at a meeting at Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra last month suggests that in the more distant past, the story was different: When humans first landed on isolated islands during the Pleistocene, 10,000 years ago and more, their impact was surprisingly light. Studies from islands including Flores, Sri Lanka, and others suggest that early colonizers often coexisted with native fauna, perhaps because their populations were smaller and their technology simpler, or because they did not introduce invasive species such as rats and dogs.
↵April Reese is a journalist in Townsville, Australia.