(ORDO NEWS) — Paleontologists have found evidence in Madagascar that the island’s megafauna, including giant lemurs, elephant birds and pygmy hippos, died out due to massive forest burning by early farmers and pastoralists.
According to the press service of the Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology (MPIfG).
Many scientists believe that the appearance of man in Madagascar about 2.5 thousand years ago caused the disappearance of a large number of species of large animals and birds that lived on the island.
These traditionally include three-meter-high epiornis elephant birds (Aepyornis maximus), giant sloth lemurs (Archaeoindris), which were comparable in size to a gorilla, pygmy hippos and giant viverre foss.
At the same time, there is debate in the scientific community about exactly how the Madagascar megafauna died out and to what extent the ancestors of modern Malagasy are to blame for this.
Some consider the extinction of large species to be the result of hunting, while others see the cause in climatic and environmental factors.
As a result, a team of European paleontologists managed to establish that the disappearance of the island megafauna is associated with the economic activity of the ancient islanders – mass deforestation and burning.
For this, the bones of ancient animals found in the coastal sediments of three arid regions of the island were examined.
It was found that the Madagascar megafauna tolerated long droughts and other climate changes over the past six thousand years, and the number of animals began to decline sharply about a thousand years ago.
At the same time, the number of particles of ash and charcoal increased sharply in the sediments, and fragments of zebu cows began to appear, which the first inhabitants of the island brought with them.
Scientists came to the conclusion that the main reason for the extinction of large species of ancient animals of the island was not hunters, but farmers and cattle breeders, who freed up territories for fields and pastures.
This deprived the representatives of the island fauna of their usual habitats and forced them to compete with domesticated species.
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