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On discerning the cause of late Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions

  • Michael W. Beck (a1)

Abstract

I examine the late Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions by testing the only extinction model with strong a priori predictions, the blitzkrieg model (Martin 1973; Mosimann and Martin 1975). I first test an assumption of the blitzkrieg and other extinction models that the megafaunal extinctions occurred in the terminal Wisconsin (12-10 Ka). This assumption has been disputed by Grayson (1989, 1991), but I find that both a reanalysis of Grayson's data and an analysis of new reliable data support a terminal Wisconsin extinction.

The blitzkrieg model predicts that the ranges of megafauna in North America were constricted as the semicircular front of hunters moved southeastward; hence the extinctions should be time-transgressive from northwest to southeast. I test this prediction in three separate analyses that examine (1) the location of terminal sites for each taxon relative to all their other late Wisconsin fossil sites, (2) the location of terminal sites for each taxon relative to all their other reliably dated late Wisconsin fossil sites, and (3) the spatio-temporal pattern of all the reliably dated terminal Wisconsin sites without regard to taxonomy. The geographic distribution of the megafaunal remains does not support the blitzkrieg hypothesis in any of the three analyses. Moreover, all of the patterns in the data are in a direction opposite to that predicted by the blitzkrieg hypothesis. I examine how these conclusions affect both climatic and predation models, particularly in relation to the testability of other extinction hypotheses.

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