Humans rather than climate the primary cause of Pleistocene megafaunal extinction in Australia

W.A. van der Kaars*, Gifford Miller, Chris Turney, Ellyn Cook, Dirk Nürnberg, Joachim Schönfeld, Peter Kershaw, Scott Lehman

*Corresponding author for this work

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Environmental histories that span the last full glacial cycle and are representative of regional change in Australia are scarce, hampering assessment of environmental change preceding and concurrent with human dispersal on the continent ca. 47,000 years ago. Here we present a continuous 150,000-year record offshore south-Western Australia and identify the timing of two critical late Pleistocene events: wide-scale ecosystem change and regional megafaunal population collapse. We establish that substantial changes in vegetation and fire regime occurred ∼70,000 years ago under a climate much drier than today. We record high levels of the dung fungus Sporormiella, a proxy for herbivore biomass, from 150,000 to 45,000 years ago, then a marked decline indicating megafaunal population collapse, from 45,000 to 43,100 years ago, placing the extinctions within 4,000 years of human dispersal across Australia. These findings rule out climate change, and implicate humans, as the primary extinction cause.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14142
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2017


FundersFunder number
Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences0914821


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