Climate AND humans? A new study using ancient DNA, fossils, & models contributes to a classic problem in paleoecology

Good reading that negates the perennial “this” versus “that” debate and shows how science is a complex, interwoven fabric of causes, effects and feedback loops.

The Contemplative Mammoth

The extinction of the ice-age megafauna is one of the most persistent (and contentious) problems in paleoecology. Since the 1960’s, the literature has been dominated by fierce debates about whether humans or climate change were responsible for the demise of the mammoths, mastodons, woolly rhinos, and other now-extinct megaherbivores and their predators. It’s difficult to work in this field, as I do, without becoming involved in one way or another in the debates (even though my research actually focuses on the ecological consequences of the extinction, rather than the causes). Half a century later, it’s still fairly common to see one study condemning humans, and the next siding with climate change. This dualism has been really frustrating– we know that humans change their cultural practices in response to climate, for example– and answers to ecological problems are typically more complex than single causes.

That’s why I was so very excited…

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