Bollocks, nonceboy bollocks

A study that will be published on July 1st in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution challenges claims that early human hunters slaughtered prehistoric elephants, mammoths and mastodonts to extinction over millennia. Instead, its findings indicate the extinction of the last mammoths and mastodonts at the end of the last Ice Age marked the end of progressive climate-driven global decline among elephants over millions of years.

Via PR email.

That the megafauna disappeared everywhere and every time early humans turned up for the first time rather puts this conclusion into dispute…..moas in NZ were bugger all to do with climate change after all.

13 thoughts on “Bollocks, nonceboy bollocks”

  1. It’s not actually a bad theory. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation. As temperatures rose at the end of the glacial period it didn’t favour large animals’ heat budgets. Surface area rises by the square whilst volume by the cube. Large animals lose less body heat to cold conditions & thus require less energy to function. But move to warmer conditions & they have problems getting rid of heat. The surviving megafauna seem to adapted by losing body hair so they can radiate heat better. It’s supposed to be why humans lost their pelts. Humans hunted faster animals by running them to exhaustion. A man will outrun a horse given enough distance. Humans have more endurance. Getting rid of body heat was part of that adaptation.

  2. I would love to see that as an outdoor game show BiS : say 3 humans with stones and spears versus a horse on a Nevada plain. Will the humans eat steak, or the one with the nay win the day. Roman Emperors up to the Borgias would have let it happen. But the modern world is diff.

  3. Horses went extinct in the New World. And that seems to coincide with the arrival of Ugg.
    Can’t say I’ve ever bought into the idea mammoths were hunted to extinction. If so, why not elephants?

  4. Over short distance humans can indeed outrun a horse. It takes a while to sort out getting four legs coordinated, more than two legs, and a bipedal sprint start transfers the initial start thrust into motion as well. There was a sprinter in the 1930s who’d travel (I think it was) the States performing such stunts for money.

    Gyrgle…. Ah. Jessie Owens could regularly beat a horse&trap over 100 yards. “What was I supposed to do, you can’t eat Olympic medals”.

  5. Apparently even a mediocre human can outsprint even the best race horse over 100m – if it’s 50m out and back.

    Also apparently if a grizzly bear charges you, you should hold your ground. Most times your non-prey reaction confuses them and they halt the charge. I read that somewhere. The advice didn’t come with a money back guarantee.

  6. I’d argue for the principle of co-evolution. Animals in Africa, and to a lesser extent in Southern Asia, evolved along with humans and were thus able to adapt to them.

    In say the New World, humans arrived and used bush fires and bullroarers to kill off the megafauna before it could adapt. Much the same way as the abos killed off the megafauna (except the crocs) in Oz.

    Big tough animals with lots of brute force don’t generally evolve mental flexibility.

  7. Bit of both, really…

    Humans have always been very effective hunters. Even our cousins, the chimpanzees, who are basically stuck at the “proto-human”/Lucy stage can and will hunt, and as such have an impact on any ecosystem they’re present in.
    Our other cousins, Neanderthal, Denisovan, and most likely one other according to genetic data, most certainly were able to take out the big beasties.
    Our own ancestors could and would take down anything that they could eat, and were according to analysis of coprolites very much not vegetarians. So they could and did make inroads on the population on anything not having a fast reproduction cycle. Like any big animal they could get their hands on and spears in.

    At the same time, climate did drastically change at the end of the last ice age, at a rate that far exceeded any possibility of evolutionary adaptation by anything big and specialised, because they have that long reproduction cycle.
    Also, quite a lot of the megafauna lived in places that are now sea floor. Quite a lot of what is/would be forest or plains now was at the time a cold version of the Sahara..
    The North Sea is by far not the only place that has “disappeared” under water, and higher up glacial lakes breaking through their end morenes caused massive floods that have left their marks up until this day, utterly wiping out thousands upon thousands square miles of habitat all over the world.

    So between a rapid decline in available habitat, an inability to adapt, and being a good food/material source for us the glacial megafauna was basically doomed. Whether it was us or Mother Nature that gave the coup de grace is merely a matter of detail. The breeding populations would have gotten too isolated and too small to sustain either way.

    This is a given in population biology and evolutionary models: The larger the beastie, the longer the reproduction cycle. Which means that the larger beasties have far less opportunity/ability to adapt when climate inevitably changes, if they can adapt at all.
    They’re impressive, but from an evolutionary point of view a one-way dead end from the start. Anything with a long reproduction cycle is. The only reason we humans made it is the relative stability of the climate where we evolved, and the fact that we very much cheat with our tools and wearing other beasties’ pelts.
    So if the article doesn’t contain the Woo-Climate angle, it’s pretty much a confirmation of established science. Applied to elephants.

    When it comes to horses, the story is a bit different. Their saving grace is that we figured out they were actually useful to us. Before that they were pretty much only seen as food, and the population of meat-on-the-hoof drastically dropped or disappeared altogether wherever we showed up.
    Wherever horses weren’t domesticated they disappeared. Including the american continent. This is “recorded” in both the fossil record and the genetic record.

    As for why elephants still are around: They live in a warm climate. No refrigeration, including the blessings of winter, means there’s an absolute limit to what you can hunt and preserve.
    Coupled with the danger involved ( elephants very much aren’t gentle, docile or fluffy..) big beasties like that tend to be only worth hunting for status, not really for food in warm climes. Especially when killing one means you will also have to beat off lions, hyenas, and anything else coming for Free Lunch pretty sharpish.
    5-10 men with spears can take out an elephant, and most of them will live if they take a bachelor male. You very much don’t want to tangle with the herd of cows… That hunting group will also very much lose out against a determined claim by a pride of lions, or a hunting pack of hyenas which can in and of itself take out that pride of lions..
    Which is actually pretty much how things were done.. Kill the big beastie, take whatever meat you could carry and bugger off asap, come to collect the bones and ivory when everything has quieted down.

    Also never forget that the african fauna evolved alongside humans (everywhere else we’re pretty much a “recent invasive species” in evolutionary terms..). What survived can and will deal with us, as long as we don’t have a gun. They know exactly what we are, how dangerous we are, and our weaknesses.
    Which is exactly why the Moas, Dodo’s, and others of that ilk. When apex predators suddenly appear in an ecosystem that is essentially defenseless… welll…. Stuff Happens. They never got the chance to form a defense against us.
    The elephant species that did survive were either useful to us ( Hannibal..), or too bloody dangerous to tangle with without a good dare.

  8. There was a show where 3 people were put into a wilderness location and given a freshly killed game animal and had to survive for 30 days, the twist being no tools.
    The ability of people who know what they are doing to skin and butcher the animal just by using available resources (stones, silica edges in grass) and light a fire in short order to butcher, preserve and protect their kill was impressive. As they often commented it was usually more work to keep your food supply safe than to kill it in the first place

  9. The problem with the climate change killed the mammoth hypothesis on first appearances is that mammoths have been around for 3 million years, so they lived through lots of interglacials. The last interglacial, the Eemian, was much warmer than today: GMST 1-2 ‘C warmer – but that’s somewhat misleading, sea level was 20 – 30 feet higher with hippopotamus lazing in the Thames! so the reality of how different the climate was is a lot starker than that 1 – 2’ C implies (and demonstrates that past and future estimates of temperature may be as informative as you’d think).

    It’s possible that the climate changes since the mid Pleistocene transition where undermining these species after each interglacial and this reached its logical conclusion in the Holocene.

    Personally I think modern humans reached their evolutionary zenith in the last glaciation, and the interglacial unleashed that capability on the world. As an example that’s when agriculture became a thing.

    Perhaps a combination of climate change and human hunting.

  10. We have ‘modern’ evidence of the effect of humans being introduced as the horrible alien species. Madagascar.

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