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Ecological consequences of Late Quaternary extinctions of megafauna


Johnson, CN, Ecological consequences of Late Quaternary extinctions of megafauna, Royal Society of London. Proceedings. Biological Sciences, 276, (1667) pp. 2509-2519. ISSN 0962-8452 (2009) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright Statement

Copyright 2009 The Royal Society

DOI: doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.1921


Large herbivorous vertebrates have strong interactions with vegetation, affecting the structure, composition and dynamics of plant communities in many ways. Living large herbivores are a small remnant of the assemblages of giants that existed in most terrestrial ecosystems 50 000 years ago. The extinction of so many large herbivores may well have triggered large changes in plant communities. In several parts of the world, palaeoecological studies suggest that extinct megafauna once maintained vegetation openness, and in wooded landscapes created mosaics of different structural types of vegetation with high habitat and species diversity. Following megafaunal extinction, these habitats reverted to more dense and uniform formations. Megafaunal extinction also led to changes in fire regimes and increased fire frequency due to accumulation of uncropped plant material, but there is a great deal of variation in post-extinction changes in fire. Plant communities that once interacted with extinct large herbivores still contain many species with obsolete defences against browsing and non-functional adaptations for seed dispersal. Such plants may be in decline, and, as a result, many plant communities may be in various stages of a process of relaxation from megafauna-conditioned to megafauna-naive states. Understanding the past role of giant herbivores provides fundamental insight into the history, dynamics and conservation of contemporary plant communities.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Palaeoecology
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Johnson, CN (Professor Christopher Johnson)
ID Code:72241
Year Published:2009
Web of Science® Times Cited:184
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2011-08-24
Last Modified:2014-12-18

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