Determinants of loss of mammal species during the late Quaternary ‘megafauna’ extinctions: life history and ecology, but not body size

Johnson, C.N. (2002) Determinants of loss of mammal species during the late Quaternary ‘megafauna’ extinctions: life history and ecology, but not body size. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, 269 (1506). pp. 2221-2228.

PDF (Published Version) - Published Version
Download (109kB)
View at Publisher Website:


Extinctions of megafauna species during the late Quaternary dramatically reduced the global diversity of mammals. There is intense debate over the causes of these extinctions, especially regarding the extent to which humans were involved. Most previous analyses of this question have focussed on chronologies of extinction and on the archeological evidence for human-megafauna interaction. Here I take an alternative approach: comparison of the biological traits of extinct species with those of survivors. I use this to demonstrate two general features of the selectivity of late Quaternary mammal extinctions in Australia, Eurasia, the Americas and Madagascar. First, large size was not directly related to risk of extinction; rather, species with slow reproductive rates were at high risk regardless of their body size. This finding rejects the ‘blitzkrieg’ model of overkill, in which extinctions were completed during brief intervals of selective hunting of large-bodied prey. Second, species that survived despite having low reproductive rates typically occurred in closed habitats and many were arboreal or nocturnal. Such traits would have reduced their exposure to direct interaction with people. Therefore, although this analysis rejects blitzkrieg as a general scenario for the mammal megafauna extinctions, it is consistent with extinctions being due to interaction with human populations.

Item ID: 1056
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1471-2954
Keywords: extinction risk; megafauna; Pleistocene extinctions; overkill
Additional Information:

Copyright 2002 The Royal Society. : Reproduced in accordance with publisher policy. This journal is available online. Use hyperlinks above.

Date Deposited: 06 Nov 2006
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060206 Palaeoecology @ 0%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0699 Other Biological Sciences @ 0%
Downloads: Total: 2008
Last 12 Months: 20
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page