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In a recent research paper published in the journal Science, scientists examined the records on megaherbivore—animals weighing more than 2,000 pounds—communities in eastern Africa. Their study found that environmental factors may be more to blame than human hunting when it comes to the extinctions of diverse mammal communities.
The authors of the study argue that the decline in population of animals in Africa may have been caused by issues like declining atmospheric carbon dioxide and expansion of grasslands. John Rowan, a postdoctoral scientist from University of Massachusetts Amherst who aided in the study, tells USA Today, “Low CO2 levels favor tropical grasses over trees, and as a consequence savannas became less woody and more open through time.” He continues, “We know that many of the extinct megaherbivores fed on woody vegetation, so they seem to disappear alongside their food source.”
Lead author Tayler Faith, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Utah, tells USA Today that the study found that around 28 lineages of megaherbivore animals in Africa started to go extinct around 4.6 million years ago. Due to these extinctions of animals, the only remaining megaherbivores are elephants, hippopotamuses, giraffes, and white and black rhinoceroses.
The study does emphasizes that they are not claiming humans didn’t play a role in these extinctions of animals. René Bobe and Susana Carvalho, researchers who published an article in the same issue of Science, tell USA Today, “The causes of megaherbivore decline are probably complex, multidimensional, and varied across time and space.”
So, while humans cannot be blamed as the catalyst for the megaherbivores in Africa, they have played a role in the ongoing losses.
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