Rapid range shifts and megafaunal extinctions associated with late Pleistocene climate change

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  • Seersholm, Frederik Valeur
  • Daniel J. Werndly
  • Alicia Grealy
  • Taryn Johnson
  • Erin M. Keenan Early
  • Ernest L. Lundelius
  • Barbara Winsborough
  • Grayal Earle Farr
  • Rickard Toomey
  • Hansen, Anders Johannes
  • Beth Shapiro
  • Michael R. Waters
  • Gregory McDonald
  • Anna Linderholm
  • Thomas W. Stafford
  • Michael Bunce

Large-scale changes in global climate at the end of the Pleistocene significantly impacted ecosystems across North America. However, the pace and scale of biotic turnover in response to both the Younger Dryas cold period and subsequent Holocene rapid warming have been challenging to assess because of the scarcity of well dated fossil and pollen records that covers this period. Here we present an ancient DNA record from Hall’s Cave, Texas, that documents 100 vertebrate and 45 plant taxa from bulk fossils and sediment. We show that local plant and animal diversity dropped markedly during Younger Dryas cooling, but while plant diversity recovered in the early Holocene, animal diversity did not. Instead, five extant and nine extinct large bodied animals disappeared from the region at the end of the Pleistocene. Our findings suggest that climate change affected the local ecosystem in Texas over the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary, but climate change on its own may not explain the disappearance of the megafauna at the end of the Pleistocene.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2770
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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