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Pleistocene Overkill and North American Mammalian Extinctions

Annual Review of Anthropology

Annual Reviews

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      Abstract

      Clovis groups in Late Pleistocene North America occasionally hunted several now extinct large mammals. But whether their hunting drove 37 genera of animals to extinction has been disputed, largely for want of kill sites. Overkill proponents argue that there is more archaeological evidence than we ought to expect, that humans had the wherewithal to decimate what may have been millions of animals, and that the appearance of humans and the disappearance of the fauna is too striking to be a mere coincidence. Yet, there is less to these claims than meets the eye. Moreover, extinctions took place amid sweeping climatic and environmental changes as the Pleistocene came to an end. It has long been difficult to link those changes to mammalian extinctions, but the advent of ancient DNA, coupled with high-resolution paleoecological, radiocarbon, and archeological records, should help disentangle the relative role of changing climates and people in mammalian extinctions.

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      Insolation values for the climate of the last 10 million years

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        Synergies among extinction drivers under global change.

        If habitat destruction or overexploitation of populations is severe, species loss can occur directly and abruptly. Yet the final descent to extinction is often driven by synergistic processes (amplifying feedbacks) that can be disconnected from the original cause of decline. We review recent observational, experimental and meta-analytic work which together show that owing to interacting and self-reinforcing processes, estimates of extinction risk for most species are more severe than previously recognised. As such, conservation actions which only target single-threat drivers risk being inadequate because of the cascading effects caused by unmanaged synergies. Future work should focus on how climate change will interact with and accelerate ongoing threats to biodiversity, such as habitat degradation, overexploitation and invasive species.
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          Vertebrate Taphonomy

           R. LYMAN,  R. LYMAN,  R. Lyman (1994)
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            Author and article information

            Journal
            Annual Review of Anthropology
            Annu. Rev. Anthropol.
            Annual Reviews
            0084-6570
            1545-4290
            October 21 2015
            October 21 2015
            : 44
            : 1
            : 33-53
            10.1146/annurev-anthro-102214-013854
            © 2015

            Evolutionary Biology

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