Giant Ice Age species including elephant-sized sloths and powerful sabre-toothed cats that once roamed the windswept plains of Patagonia, southern South America, were finally felled by a perfect storm of a rapidly warming climate and humans, a new study has shown.
Research led by the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide, published today in Science Advances, has revealed that it was only when the climate warmed, long after humans first arrived in Patagonia, did the megafauna suddenly die off around 12,300 years ago.
The timing and cause of rapid extinctions of the megafauna has remained a mystery for centuries.
"Patagonia turns out to be the Rosetta Stone - it shows that human colonisation didn't immediately result in extinctions, but only as long as it stayed cold," says study leader Professor Alan Cooper, ACAD Director. "Instead, more than 1000 years of human occupation passed before a rapid warming event occurred, and then the megafauna were extinct within a hundred years."