Relationships between climate change, human environmental impact, and megafaunal extinction inferred from a 4000-year multi-proxy record from a stalagmite from northwestern Madagascar

L. Bruce Railsback, Laura A. Dupont, Fuyuan Liang, George A. Brook, David A. Burney, Hai Cheng, R. Lawrence Edwards

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11 Scopus citations


Stalagmite ANJ94-2 from Anjohibe Cave in northwestern Madagascar provides an exceptionally detailed and precisely dated record of changing environmental conditions that, combined with previously published data from stalagmites, wetland deposits, and archaeological sites, allows insights into past climate change, human environmental impact, and megafaunal extinction. Proxies of past conditions recovered from Stalagmite ANJ94-2 include ratios of carbon and oxygen stable isotopes (δ13C and δ18O), mineralogy (calcite and aragonite), layer-bounding surfaces, layer-specific width, and detrital material. Those proxies suggest that the natural environment changed in response to changes in rainfall at time scales of a few decades to multiple centuries; comparison with distant proxies suggests that wetter conditions in northwestern Madagascar may have been linked to cooling in the Northern Hemisphere. Carbon isotope data nonetheless suggest that the greatest environmental change in the area coincided with human introduction of swidden (tavy) agriculture about 1200 years ago, during a time not of drought but perhaps of slightly increasing wetness. The timing and extent of environmental change 1200 to 600 years ago seen in stalagmite and wetland data suggest that human modification of the landscape had a causal role in the extinction of Madagascar's megafauna. On the other hand, the results combine with other recent research to indicate that drought was not the cause of the megafaunal extinction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106244
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Apr 15 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this research came from U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA ) grant NA56GP0325 to Brook, Railsback, Jean-Claude Thill and Richard S. Meltzer; from US National Science Foundation ( NSF ) grants 8912046 to Brook, Burney and James B. Cowart, and 9908415 to Brook and Railsback; from National Natural Science Foundation of China ( NSFC ) grant 41888101 to Cheng; from the Department of Geology of the University of Georgia (USA) in support of an undergraduate thesis by Dupont; and from Prof. Celeste M. Condit. The government and people of Madagascar kindly assisted in making this research possible. Fieldwork in Madagascar was carried out under the auspices of the Cenozoic Research Group, a Malagasy-American collaboration sanctioned by the Service de Paléontologie and the Musée d’Art et d’Archéologie of the Université d’Antananarivo.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Africa
  • Environment
  • Extinction
  • Holocene
  • Landscape
  • Madagascar
  • Paleoclimatology
  • Speleothems
  • Stalagmite


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