Pleistocene megafaunal collapse, novel plant communities, and enhanced fire regimes in North America

Jacquelyn L. Gill, John W. Williams, Stephen T. Jackson, Katherine B. Lininger, Guy S. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

359 Scopus citations

Abstract

Although the North American megafaunal extinctions and the formation of novel plant communities are well-known features of the last deglaciation, the causal relationships between these phenomena are unclear. Using the dung fungus Sporormiella and other paleoecological proxies from Appleman Lake, Indiana, and several New York sites, we established that the megafaunal decline closely preceded enhanced fire regimes and the development of plant communities that have no modern analogs. The loss of keystone megaherbivores may thus have altered ecosystem structure and function by the release of palatable hardwoods from herbivory pressure and by fuel accumulation. Megafaunal populations collapsed from 14,800 to 13,700 years ago, well before the final extinctions and during the BøllingAllered warm period. Human impacts remain plausible, but the decline predates Younger Dryas cooling and the extraterrestrial impact event proposed to have occurred 12,900 years ago.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1100-1103
Number of pages4
JournalScience
Volume326
Issue number5956
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 20 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright:
Copyright 2010 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

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