The Hunters Did It

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Science  23 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6075, pp. 1452-1453
DOI: 10.1126/science.1220176

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In the past 100,000 years, many of the largest animals on Earth became extinct. The reasons for these megafaunal extinctions remain contentious (1, 2). In 1967, Martin suggested that within a few hundred years of their arrival, fast-moving bands of hunters eliminated the big game by overkill (3). Similarly, Flannery claimed in the 1990s that the current fire-swept Australian landscape with its impoverished soils was created by human elimination of massive marsupial browsers and grazers (4, 5). However, a diverse array of counter-hypotheses has been proposed; the leading argument is that habitat loss through climate change or fire was the critical blow to many large animals (6). The loss of 55 large mammal species in Australia (see the figure), shortly after humans arrived ∼45,000 years ago (7), provides a key test case. On page 1483 of this issue, Rule et al. (8) present new results from tropical Australia supporting the idea that hunting alone was responsible.