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Extinction of woolly mammoths may have been due to addition of a predator: Humans
Date:7/2/2010

, the large population of predators such as dire wolves and sabertooth cats caused carnivores to compete intensely for food, as evidenced by heavy tooth wear.

"Heavily worn and fractured teeth are a result of bone consumption, something most carnivores avoid unless prey is difficult to acquire," Van Valkenburgh said.

Trophic cascades initiated by humans are broadly demonstrated, the researchers report. In North America, it may have started with the arrival of the first humans, but continues today with the extirpation of wolves, cougars and other predators around the world. The hunting of whales in the last century may have led to predatory killer whales turning their attention to other prey, such as seals and sea otters and the declines in sea otter populations has led to an explosion of sea urchins and the collapse of kelp forest ecosystems.

"In the terrestrial realm, it is important that we have a better understanding of how Pleistocene ecosystems were structured as we proceed in maintaining and restoring today's ecosystems," the scientists wrote. "In the aquatic realm, the Earth's oceans are the last frontier for megafaunal species declines and extinctions.

"The tragic cascade of species declines due to human harvesting of marine megafauna happening now may be a repeat of the cascade that occurred with the onset of human harvesting of terrestrial megafauna more than 10,000 years ago. This is a sobering thought, but it is not too late to alter our course this time around in the interest of sustaining Earth's ecosystems."


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Contact: Stuart Wolpert
swolpert@support.ucla.edu
310-206-0511
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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