Once upon a time, giant lemurs, turtles and dodo birds walked around Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands. Scientists from the University of Innsbruck in Austria were able to establish the cause of the extinction of these animals. Findings suggest the millennial drought and man are to be blamed for everything.
Scientists have previously suggested that the extinction of the region’s megafauna could be related to climate change and droughts over extended periods of time. Researchers have now been able to find the true reasons.
Researchers studied mineral deposits in Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands and found that drought and increased human activity have become a “double blow” for the ecosystem of the region. Almost all of Madagascar’s megafauna (the dodo bird, giant lemurs, giant turtles and the elephant bird that belonged to the epyornis family) disappeared 500 to 1500 years ago.
The Mascarene Islands, located east of Madagascar, are of particular interest to scientists as they are among the last islands on Earth to be visited by humans. That is why scientists were extremely curious about how the animals coped with the harsh climatic conditions “alone”, and what happened when they met with humans.
As it turned out, the large animals that were indigenous to these islands were able to survive thousands of years of terrible drought, but the appearance of people left them no chance. The researchers say the combination of hunting, deforestation and other anthropogenic factors has greatly affected the lives of local creatures.
In order to come to such conclusions, the authors reconstructed the climatic trends of this region. To do this, they turned to calcite deposits in the La Vierge Cave in the Mascarene Islands. Scientists have determined that these deposits represent the climatic record of the region.
Using the data from the caves, the researchers found that before the arrival of humans, animals could cope with more severe climatic conditions. That is why the authors of the work exclude climate change as the only cause of extinction, suggesting that the life of creatures was strongly influenced by humans. Scientists believe the region’s megafauna has developed resilience over thousands of years of drought, but humans have become a new stressor.