Robustness despite uncertainty: regional climate data reveal the dominant role of humans in explaining global extinctions of Late Quaternary megafauna
Bartlett, L. J., Williams, D. R., Prescott, G. W., Balmford, A., Green, R. E., Eriksson, A., Valdes, P. J., Singarayer, J. S. and Manica, A. (2015) Robustness despite uncertainty: regional climate data reveal the dominant role of humans in explaining global extinctions of Late Quaternary megafauna. Ecography. ISSN 0906-7590
To link to this article DOI: 10.1111/ecog.01566
Debate over the late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions has focussed on whether human colonisation or climatic changes were more important drivers of extinction, with few extinctions being unambiguously attributable to either. Most analyses have been geographically or taxonomically restricted and the few quantitative global analyses have been limited by coarse temporal resolution or overly simplified climate reconstructions or proxies. We present a global analysis of the causes of these extinctions which uses high-resolution climate reconstructions and explicitly investigates the sensitivity of our results to uncertainty in the palaeological record. Our results show that human colonisation was the dominant driver of megafaunal extinction across the world but that climatic factors were also important. We identify the geographic regions where future research is likely to have the most impact, with our models reliably predicting extinctions across most of the world, with the notable exception of mainland Asia where we fail to explain the apparently low rate of extinction found in in the fossil record. Our results are highly robust to uncertainties in the palaeological record, and our main conclusions are unlikely to change qualitatively following minor improvements or changes in the dates of extinctions and human colonisation.