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Humans and climate drove giants of Madagascar to extinction


The entire endemic megafauna of Madagascar and the Mascarene islands was eliminated during the past millennium. To investigate possible drivers of this extinction, an international team of scientists constructed an 8000-year record of the islands’ past climate. Result: The ecosystem was resilient to prior climate stress but collapsed with an increase in human activities.

Christoph Spötl from the Innsbruck Quaternary Research Group was part of the international team. The results have now been published in Science Advances. Nearly all of Madagascan megafauna – including the famous Dodo bird, gorilla-sized lemurs, giant tortoises, and the Elephant Bird which stood 3 meters tall and weighted close to a half ton – vanished between 1500 and 500 years ago. Were these animals over hunted to extinction by humans? Or did they disappear because of climate change? There are numerous hypotheses, but the exact cause of this megafauna crash remains elusive and hotly debated. MORE