Establishing the cause of past extinctions is critical if we are to understand better what might trigger future occurrences and how to prevent them. The mechanisms of continental late Pleistocene megafaunal extinction, however, are still fiercely contested. Potential factors contributing to their demise include climatic change, human impact, or some combination. On the Australian mainland, 90% of the megafauna became extinct by ≈46 thousand years (ka) ago, soon after the first archaeological evidence for human colonization of the continent. Yet, on the neighboring island of Tasmania (which was connected to the mainland when sea levels were lower), megafaunal extinction appears to have taken place before the initial human arrival between 43 and 40 ka, which would seem to exonerate people as a contributing factor in the extirpation of the island megafauna. Age estimates for the last megafauna, however, are poorly constrained. Here, we show, by direct dating of fossil remains and their associated sediments, that some Tasmanian megafauna survived until at least 41 ka (i.e., after their extinction on the Australian mainland) and thus overlapped with humans. Furthermore, a vegetation record for Tasmania spanning the last 130 ka shows that no significant regional climatic or environmental change occurred between 43 and 37 ka, when a land bridge existed between Tasmania and the mainland. Our results are consistent with a model of human-induced extinction for the Tasmanian megafauna, most probably driven by hunting, and they reaffirm the value of islands adjacent to continental landmasses as tests of competing hypotheses for late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Vol. 105, Issue 34, p. 12150-12153