American Megafaunal Extinctions at the End of the Pleistocene

Part of the series Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology pp 21-37

Sudden Deaths: The Chronology of Terminal Pleistocene Megafaunal Extinction

  • Stuart FiedelAffiliated withLouis Berger Group

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If we ever hope to ascertain the cause(s) of the extinction of North American megafauna at the end of the Pleistocene, a necessary first step is to establish the chronology of this occurrence. Was it an abrupt event, in which about 30 or more genera disappeared simultaneously within no more than several hundred years, or instead a long, drawn-out, gradual process, with each species dying out independently and asynchronously, over the course of millennia?

Those who advocate a vague climatic/environmental cause favor the latter gradual scenario; they recognize that if the extinctions were shown instead to be abrupt and synchronous, it would compel them to “attribute to the extinction ‘event’ …speed and taxonomic breadth …Once that is done, explanations of the extinctions must be structured to account for these assumed properties, whether those explanations focus on people, cli-mate…or disease” (Grayson and Meltzer, 2002:347).


Extinction process North and South America human impacts on megafauna