Critical assessment of end pleistocene Essay


A dramatic loss in megafauna, peculiarly in the Americas and in Australia, occurred at the terminal Pleistocene. This extinction coincided with the reaching of worlds in these continents and besides with clime alteration in some parts. The “overkill” hypothesis proposed to hold caused the extinction is a valid account as is the blitzkrieg theoretical account it is projected under. This may hold entirely caused extinctions in some parts but in others, chiefly North America, it was likely that clime alteration had a negative consequence on populations of species with human predation turn outing to be the tipping point doing existent extinction. Due to a deficiency of grounds the “hyperdisease” hypothesis can non be presently viewed as holding any impact.


At the terminal Pleistocene an extinction event occurred with the loss of assorted big animate beings. The “overkill” hypothesis proposed by Martin ( 1984a ) argues that the extinction of these megafauna was caused by the reaching of a new species, Homo sapiens. It claims that the spread of worlds across the Earth after the last glacial period resulted in species such as the woolly gigantic, Mammuthus primigenius, being over hunted to such a grade that they became nonextant. This is suggested to hold taken topographic point over a short period of clip – the blitzkrieg theoretical account. The other possible cause widely considered is climate alteration nevertheless there is another theory foremost introduced by MacPhee & A ; Marx ( 1997 ) that puts frontward the thought that the cause of extinction was a disease – the “hyperdisease” hypothesis. It is of import that research is undertaken in this topic as the extent of the human impact upon the Earth and the effects of clime alteration and disease on zoologies are all subjects that are relevant to the universe today. This means decisions reached on this issue can be used as a theoretical account for the hereafter.

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In this study the “overkill” hypothesis is critically assessed. The grounds in support of the theory will be analysed to demo how valid it is. It will be compared to the other ideas on the cause of the extinction ; that some species were unable to get by with the environmental force per unit areas of a altering clime or that they were killed by a disease. All will be discussed with the purpose to make a decision on whether the “overkill” hypothesis is right and if non so how much of an impact did worlds have on the late Pleistocene megafauna.

The End Pleistocene Extinction

The Pleistocene lasted from 2.58 million old ages before present ( BP ) to the Pleistocene – Holocene passage 14 – 10 14C thousand old ages BP. It covered the last perennial glacial period with the Holocene being the current inter-glacial. A world-wide extinction event occurred towards the terminal of the Pleistocene, but it is particularly evident in North America, South America, Australia and although to a lesser extent, in Europe. Using carbon 14 dating the period of extinction can be accurately dated as holding occurred between 12 and 10 thousand 14C old ages BP in the Americas and Europe ( Grayson 2007 ) and around 50 thousand 14C old ages BP in Australia ( Miller et al 1999 ) . It was chiefly mammals that were affected, peculiarly the larger species. Specifying megafauna as any species weighing over 44kg, in North America 73 % ( 43 genera ) of its megafauna became nonextant ( Webb 1984 ) , in South America 80 % ( 46 genera ) of its megafauna ( Martin 1984a ) and more than 85 % ( 19 genera ) in Australia ( Miller et al 1999 ) . All the megafaunal species which were lost were mammals with the exclusion of two in Australia – the reptilian Megalania prisca ( Roberts et al 2001 ) and the bird Genyornis newtoni ( Miller et al 1999 ) . Many big species besides became nonextant in Europe including the woolly rhinoceros, Coleodonta antiquitatis, the elephantine moose, Megaloceros giganteus, and the woolly gigantic, Mammuthus primigenious. The event besides caused the extinction of many smaller mammal and bird species, preponderantly in North America where 19 genera of birds disappeared ( Steadman & A ; Martin 1984 ) . There were few extinctions in Africa and Asia and there were no important Marine extinctions ( Barnosky 1989 ) .

Cause of Extinction:

The “Overkill” Hypothesis

Martin ( 1984a ) proposes that the terminal Pleistocene extinction was caused by predation by worlds as they spread across the continents. Early worlds normally hunted in groups and were likely to aim big species of quarry. Evidence for this has been found in the Czech Republic and southern Poland where big gatherings of mammal castanetss dominated by Mammuthus primigenius have been found ( Pean 2001 ) . Many of the species that became nonextant epitomize the sort of quarry worlds would hold targeted during that period. The deficiency of megafaunal extinctions in Africa and Asia is reasoned to be due to their co-evolution with Homo sapiens and therefore were non destabilised by a sudden human impact ( Martin 1984b ) . For the “overkill” hypothesis to be deemed valid there are two conditions it must run into. 1. Make the clip of human reaching in continents out with Africa and Asia coincide with the extinction? 2. Would it be possible for worlds to do such an impact?

  1. As antecedently mentioned the estimated timing for the extinction event is 50 1000 14C old ages BP in Australia and 10 – 12 thousand 14C old ages BP in Europe and the Americas. Thermoluminescence dating of rock artifacts ( mensurating their accumulated radiation since they were last heated ) from northern Australia by Roberts et Al ( 1990 ) reveals the reaching of worlds in this part to be between 50 and 60 thousand old ages BP. Modern worlds have been dated to hold lived in Europe since 35 thousand 14C old ages BP. And in the Americas worlds known as Clovis huntsmans from their typical rock spear points can be dated to 12 thousand 14C old ages BP ( Barnosky 1989 ) . This information shows that worlds had spread to other continents before the extinction event took topographic point.
  2. Martin ( 1984a ) suggests that human impact on continents other than Africa and Asia was sudden with species being unable to accommodate to this new marauder. Therefore worlds where able to run with comparative easiness doing a dramatic impact upon species populations. Martin ( 1984a ) termed this the blitzkrieg theoretical account mentioning to the name given to the quick and decisive military action which won Germany many conflicts in the Second World War. The weight of this theoretical account depends upon whether extinction closely followed human reaching or if there was a big clip interval. The best grounds for this is in the Americas where human reaching was shortly followed by mass extinction – within 2 thousand old ages harmonizing to C dating. It is besides evident in Australia – within 10 thousand old ages but this is taking the furthest day of the month in a scope of clip when worlds foremost arrived and so could be much shorter. The findings of Miller et Al ( 1999 ) besides shows that in Australia the extinction of the species Genyornis newtoni was non gradual but occurred over a short period of clip across all of the Continental land mass.

The conditions set are met therefore holding the “overkill” hypothesis a valid possibility for doing terminal Pleistocene mass extinction.

Comparison with the Climate Change and “Hyperdisease” Theories and Discussion

The terminal Pleistocene – Holocene passage marks the expiration of the last glacial period. A period of gradual heating occurred but was split by the Younger Dryas stadial which saw the late glacial clime return for around 1200 old ages ( Anderson et al 2007 ) . The displacement in clime from glacial to interglacial is what caused the terminal Pleistocene extinction harmonizing to the clime alteration theory. There is a grade of correlativity between regional clime alteration and the extinction event in some countries in North America, the mid – Appalachian part for case ( Barnosky 1989 ) . Between 18 1000 and 10.5 thousand old ages BP the northern countries of this part were dominated by periglacial tundra – vegetation species which could last on the borders of polar biomes – with more southern countries composed of unfastened cone-bearing wood. As the part grew warmer the flora changed to closed-canopy deciduous forest, like that of the present twenty-four hours, by 10 thousand old ages BP. During this period 18 big and one little species of mammal became nonextant ( Guilday 1984 ) . It is argued that the alteration in flora meant a loss in nutrient beginnings for some big species of herbivorous megafauna. Their resulting extinction had a knock on affect in the nutrient concatenation as the carnivorous species dependent on them besides became nonextant ( Graham & A ; Lundelius 1984 ) .

This theoretical account does look to work. However, it does so merely for choice parts. It does non account for the universe broad extinctions which took topographic point at different clip intervals, i.e. the Australia extinctions 50 thousand 14C old ages BP, as the “overkill” hypothesis does. Extinction due to altering clime would look to be gradual if it were to happen at all – the species which became extinct managed to last earlier alterations in clime ( Barnosky 1989 ) . This is non the instance with this event. Extinctions took topographic point over a short clip graduated table in both the Americas and Australia in support of the blitzkrieg theoretical account. However this theory should non be wholly discounted. It is likely that a altering clime did affect populations of species even if it did non do the existent extinctions.

The “hyperdisease” hypothesis was proposed by MacPhee & A ; Marx ( 1997 ) . It proposes that it may hold non been what worlds were actively making in new continents but what they were passively conveying in that caused the extinction event. Namely a disease which was likely to be spread by a pathogen. This is supported by their computations of a rate of loss of one species every three old ages in North America before a levelling off of the figure of extinctions ( MacPhee & A ; Marx 1998 ) . It suggests that this is non due to altering methods of obtaining nutrient by worlds or species accommodating so as to last the human impact but alternatively due to species that were insusceptible to the disease lasting. The term given to this being the infective blitzkrieg theoretical account.

There are two chief jobs with this theory. The first being that there is no known disease that is deadly plenty to do such an extinction event. However if any grounds of such a disease were to be found it would give this hypothesis important weight for explicating a big extinction event in a peculiar part. Conversely this leads to the 2nd job ; it does non explicate mass extinctions on different Continental land multitudes. The likeliness for a group of worlds to transport a pathogen to Australia between 50 and 60 thousand old ages BP and another group transporting the same pathogen to the Americas 10 – 12 thousand 14C old ages BP is really low. The deficiency of current grounds and the low likeliness of a world-wide spread of a disease by early worlds mean that this theory can non be viewed as a possible account for the terminal Pleistocene mass extinction. However it could perchance hold decimated populations and even caused extinctions on a regional graduated table. This is an country where more probes would be worthwhile.

Wider Deductions

The extended loss of megafaunal species would hold had broad deductions throughout their ecosystems including to the new add-on – worlds. Removal of a quarry species could hold resulted in the regional extinction or complete extinction of the marauder which relied upon it. On the other manus the loss of a marauder may hold resulted in a growing in population of one or more prey species. These sorts of alterations could hold had permanent effects across a nutrient web doing the death of some species or the growing of others. The deductions for worlds would hold been similar. By overhunting big herbivorous species they had exhausted an of import nutrient supply but by making the same to a big marauder their supports became more secure.


The terminal Pleistocene extinction meant the loss of a big per centum of the Earth ‘s megafauna. This occurred worldwide and at a rapid rate in at least 3 continents – North America, South America and Australia. It coincided with the reaching of worlds whom were known to run megafaunal species. It appears to be clear that the chief cause of this extinction event was “overkill” with the blitzkrieg theoretical account besides looking to be valid. It is likely nevertheless, that climate alteration particularly in North America did hold an impact on the populations of some species. These species may normally hold survived were it non for human predation upon them. There is presently no cogent evidence of a deadly disease that is capable of killing and impacting many species was spread or even existed during this period. The “hyperdisease” hypothesis is one which should nevertheless be farther investigated as if its being can be proven so it is possible that such a disease could besides hold made an impact.


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