(ORDO NEWS) — Before the advent of modern man, many species of large mammals lived on Earth, from mammoths and huge wombats to smilodons and giant sloths.
Now the megafauna is preserved mainly in Africa, but on the Black Continent, its existence is threatened by poaching, habitat destruction and climate change. What will ecosystems be like when the last giants disappear?
Today, the number of many large mammals is declining at an alarming rate, and if this trend continues, their extinction is inevitable.
Depriving them of their most important links will change existing ecosystems – and by studying past extinctions, scientists hope to understand how.
Once upon a time, North America resembled today’s Africa: elephants, horses and camels roamed its expanses, hunted by lions, wild dogs and bears.
However, about 15-11 thousand years ago, shortly after the arrival of man in the New World, all these animals disappeared, and today the largest mammal on the continent is the American bison.
A team of researchers studied thousands of mammalian fossils from the Edwards Plateau in Texas, today held at the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin.
By measuring the amount of stable isotopes in the bones, scientists were able to characterize the animal’s diet, and measurements of the teeth and long bones of the skeleton suggested its size.
They eventually reconstructed the late Pleistocene food chain and showed how it changed after the extinction of large animals.
It turned out that the extinction of megafauna, especially cats, led to a complete reorganization of natural communities and the formation of many free ecological niches.
For example, with the disappearance of saber-toothed cats and American lions , jaguars tried to take their place by preying on bison cubs, while the number of cougars and lynxes increased significantly and their body sizes increased.
At the same time, such global changes were not observed among canids: apparently, wolves, coyotes, and foxes turned out to be ecologically more flexible than cats.
Scientists suggest that the disappearance of elephants, rhinos and lions in Africa will have no less global consequences for savannah ecosystems: biogeochemical cycles, vegetation and the structure of animal communities will completely change, and the remaining species will try to “compensate” for the loss of extinct ecosystems, but completely replace them with them, naturally it won’t work.
All this suggests that the preservation of the last surviving representatives of the megafauna is an extremely important task, and the task of modern man is to prevent the series of mass extinctions of the past, provoked, among other things, by his ancestors, to continue in the future.
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