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The North American Megafauna

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Extinction is the process in which groups of organisms or species die out, occurring when the birth rate slows to below the death rate for an adequate amount of time to destroy the species. During the Pleistocene period, The North American megafauna suffered the fate of extinction.  Scientists study various theories in pursuit of answers to the mystery of their extinction.  Two major theories head the debate; the large animals were over killed by prehistoric man or a significant climate change occurred that affected their existence.

About 11,000 years ago many species of large animals became extinct across North America.  Mammals that weighed 100 pounds or more fell victim, including well known animals like the saber-tooth cat, the mammoth and the mastodon.  Some of the lesser known species included the short-face skunk and the giant beaver.

The North American Megafauna

It is interesting to note that some megafauna, while dying off in North America, continued to thrive in other countries, horses being an example.  North America was once inhabited with a diverse collection of large mammals that is comparable to modern day Africa.

The “Pleistocene Overkill” hypothesis or the human hunting theory is popular among scientists.  Supporters site the appearance of Clovis Paleoindian people to the continent 1000 years before the extinction as part of their theory.  Approximately 12,000 years ago the Clovis people migrated from Asia to the Americas, possibly being the first humans to exist in the northern part of the continent.  Evidence of their existence are found in most of the North Americas.

Little evidence of prehistoric man can be found in North America before 12,000 years ago, while much more is evident in the southern sphere, with significant sites occurring in the tropical rainforests with estimated carbine 14 dates to be over 30,000 years old.  As stated, most North America finds have been dated consistently not over 12,000 years old.

Scientific evidence appears to suggest that megafauna flourished before the appearance of the Clovis people inhabited North America.  It was after they had arrived that the numbers of large mammals began to decline, regardless of whether the new inhabitants had any responsibility or not.  As hunters and gathers, they consumed the newly found animal and plant life available to them which included the larger varieties of mammals that became extinct.

Those who theorize that the responsibility of the megafauna’s extinction falls on the Clovis people use one of two explanations.  Direct over-hunting by the continents first people caused the extinction is one view.  The other theory professes an indirect occurrence of over-hunting a key species (perhaps the mammoth) which led to an environmental unbalance and an eventual collapse, causing the extinction of remaining megafauna and leaving few large mammals on the North American continent.

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