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      New carbon dates link climatic change with human colonization and Pleistocene extinctions.

      Nature
      Animals, Biodiversity, Carbon, analysis, Carbon Radioisotopes, Climate, Fossils, History, Ancient, Human Activities, Humans, Mammals, physiology, Population Dynamics, Time Factors

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          Abstract

          Drastic ecological restructuring, species redistribution and extinctions mark the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, but an insufficiency of numbers of well-dated large mammal fossils from this transition have impeded progress in understanding the various causative links. Here I add many new radiocarbon dates to those already published on late Pleistocene fossils from Alaska and the Yukon Territory (AK-YT) and show previously unrecognized patterns. Species that survived the Pleistocene, for example, bison (Bison priscus, which evolved into Bison bison), wapiti (Cervus canadensis) and, to a smaller degree, moose (Alces alces), began to increase in numbers and continued to do so before and during human colonization and before the regional extinction of horse (Equus ferus) and mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius). These patterns allow us to reject, at least in AK-YT, some hypotheses of late Pleistocene extinction: 'Blitzkrieg' version of simultaneous human overkill, 'keystone' removal, and 'palaeo-disease'. Hypotheses of a subtler human impact and/or ecological replacement or displacement are more consistent with the data. The new patterns of dates indicate a radical ecological sorting during a uniquely forage-rich transitional period, affecting all large mammals, including humans.

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          Assessing the causes of late Pleistocene extinctions on the continents.

          One of the great debates about extinction is whether humans or climatic change caused the demise of the Pleistocene megafauna. Evidence from paleontology, climatology, archaeology, and ecology now supports the idea that humans contributed to extinction on some continents, but human hunting was not solely responsible for the pattern of extinction everywhere. Instead, evidence suggests that the intersection of human impacts with pronounced climatic change drove the precise timing and geography of extinction in the Northern Hemisphere. The story from the Southern Hemisphere is still unfolding. New evidence from Australia supports the view that humans helped cause extinctions there, but the correlation with climate is weak or contested. Firmer chronologies, more realistic ecological models, and regional paleoecological insights still are needed to understand details of the worldwide extinction pattern and the population dynamics of the species involved.
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            Rise and fall of the Beringian steppe bison.

            The widespread extinctions of large mammals at the end of the Pleistocene epoch have often been attributed to the depredations of humans; here we present genetic evidence that questions this assumption. We used ancient DNA and Bayesian techniques to reconstruct a detailed genetic history of bison throughout the late Pleistocene and Holocene epochs. Our analyses depict a large diverse population living throughout Beringia until around 37,000 years before the present, when the population's genetic diversity began to decline dramatically. The timing of this decline correlates with environmental changes associated with the onset of the last glacial cycle, whereas archaeological evidence does not support the presence of large populations of humans in Eastern Beringia until more than 15,000 years later.
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              Milankovitch forcing of fluctuations in the level of tropical lakes from 18 to 0 kyr BP

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