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Selective hunting of juveniles as a cause of the imperceptible overkill of the Australian Pleistocene megafauna

Brook, Barry W. and Johnson, C. N. (2006). Selective hunting of juveniles as a cause of the imperceptible overkill of the Australian Pleistocene megafauna. Alcheringa: an Australasian journal of palaeontology,31(1S):39-48.

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Title Selective hunting of juveniles as a cause of the imperceptible overkill of the Australian Pleistocene megafauna
Author Brook, Barry W.
Johnson, C. N.
Journal Name Alcheringa: an Australasian journal of palaeontology
Publication Date 2006
Volume Number 31
Issue Number 1S
ISSN 0311-5518   (check CDU catalogue  open catalogue search in new window)
Start Page 39
End Page 48
Editor Reed, L
Bourne, S
Megirian, D
Prideaux, G
Young, G
Wright, A
Publisher Taylor & Francis
HERDC Category C1 - Journal Article (DEST)
Abstract Overkill by human hunting has been cited consistently as a likely cause of the Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions in Australia, but little archaeological evidence has been found to support the notion of prehistoric Aboriginal people engaging in specialised “big game” hunting more than 40 millennia ago. Here we develop a demographic population model that considers explicitly the potential impact of harvest of small, immature (and presumably more vulnerable) individuals of the largest known marsupial, Diprotodon optatum. We show that remarkably low levels of exploitation of juveniles (the equivalent of one or two kills per 10 people per year) would have been sufficient to drive these large species to extinction within centuries, as a consequence of their “slow” life-histories. This conclusion is robust to assumptions regarding the compensatory response of the prey species and declines in the relative efficiency of hunting as the megafaunal populations declined. These findings dispel the idea that, at least in Australia, evidence for a sophisticated hunting toolkit and massive kill-sites are a necessary adjunct to “blitzkrieg”. Ironically, although the extinction event was likely geochronologically instantaneous (given the coarse resolution of dating from that time), on the scale of human (and megafaunal) lifetimes, the unfolding overkill would have been all but imperceptible.
Keywords age-structure
blitzkrieg
Diprotodon optatum
extinction
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03115510608619573   (check subscription with CDU E-Gateway service for CDU Staff and Students  check subscription with CDU E-Gateway in new window)
 
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