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Earth Science

What Killed the Great Beasts of North America? 214

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the mostly-spears dept.
sciencehabit writes "Until about 11,000 years ago, mammoths, giant beavers, and other massive mammals roamed North America. Many researchers have blamed their demise on incoming Paleoindians, the first Americans, who allegedly hunted them to extinction. But a new study points to climate and environmental changes instead. The findings could have implications for conservation strategies, including controversial proposals for 'rewilding' lions and elephants into North America."
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What Killed the Great Beasts of North America?

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  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @01:31PM (#46102153)

    My bad. Sabertooth tiger and Mammoth just tasted so good.

    • by crow (16139)

      What's wrong with you?

      Sure, mammoths are tasty, but my dogs won't even touch sabertooth meat. That stuff is nasty.

      Seriously.

      In general, herbivores are tasty. Carnivores and omnivores? No way. A friend of mine in Alaska had to kill the neighborhood grizzly bear, and, indeed, even his dogs wouldn't eat the meet. They ended up having to bury it (though I suppose burning would have worked, too).

      • In general, herbivores are tasty. Carnivores and omnivores? No way.

        This is at least partly cultural. Cats, dogs, bears, various reptiles, fish, whales, insects -- just to name a few animals off the top of my head that are carnivorous or omnivorous and are used as food with some frequency. If it's possible to eat it, chances are that somebody does -- and even considers it a delicacy.

      • by icebike (68054)

        What's wrong with you?

        Sure, mammoths are tasty, but my dogs won't even touch sabertooth meat. That stuff is nasty.

        Seriously.

        In general, herbivores are tasty. Carnivores and omnivores? No way. A friend of mine in Alaska had to kill the neighborhood grizzly bear, and, indeed, even his dogs wouldn't eat the meet. They ended up having to bury it (though I suppose burning would have worked, too).

        Black bear is often eaten.
        And Grizzly Bear, (usually called Brown bears in Alaska) are mostly herbaceous except when the salmon are running.

        • Black bear is often eaten.

          You can stomach bear, if it's spiced up in a meatball, but it's not what you'd call great. Compared with, say, elk.

          But dogs? C'mon, my dog will eat a rotting squirrel. Maybe the "neighborhood grizzly" was sick - grizzlies don't ordinarily inhabit human neighborhoods, save the usual caveats about garbage.

      • What's wrong with you?

        Sure, mammoths are tasty, but my dogs won't even touch sabertooth meat. That stuff is nasty.

        Seriously.

        In general, herbivores are tasty. Carnivores and omnivores? No way. A friend of mine in Alaska had to kill the neighborhood grizzly bear, and, indeed, even his dogs wouldn't eat the meet. They ended up having to bury it (though I suppose burning would have worked, too).

        So.. no bacon for you?

      • by HiThere (15173)

        Maybe it depends on whether it's a male or a female sabertooth. That seems to matter with goats.

        OTOH, I expect ANY sabertooh meat would be quite stringy, and probably only be decent in a stew.

        Still, that doesn't really matter. If you kill off the mamoths, what are the sabertooths supposed to eat? If the answer it you, then you'll kill them off even if they don't taste good.

      • What's wrong with you?

        A friend of mine in Alaska had to kill the neighborhood grizzly bear, and, indeed, even his dogs wouldn't eat the meet. They ended up having to bury it (though I suppose burning would have worked, too).

        Brown Bear is edible - barely. Of interest is that Alaska Dept of Fish and Game does require you [alaska.gov] to salvage meet from a Brown bear. So, your friend either did something wrong (left the carcass out) or the animal was really sick or your friend could be in a heap of trouble....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @01:31PM (#46102161)

    I see great hambeasts of North America roaming about everytime I go to Walmart. Largest in the world.

    We have no shortage of large, XL, XXL, XXXL, or XXXXL wildlife.

  • Lions and Elephants? Time to get a 450 WinMag!

    Seriously, nobody is actually proposing this, are they? Just some PETA dweeb, smoking crack.

    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      Seriously, nobody is actually proposing this, are they?

      Yup. Read the article.

    • Yeah, that's real shocker in the story. Someone wants to introduce elephants and lions to what is now cattle ranch territory? There has already been a crazy amount of push back when reintroducing wolfs into different areas.

      Something tells me elephants won't pay attention to barbed wire fences.

      Plus, aren't we already having a difficult time keeping mountain lions alive?

      • Something tells me elephants won't pay attention to barbed wire fences.

        I dunno. Elephants are supposed to be pretty thin-skinned.

        Assuming they don't just rip the posts out of the ground or something. They're also relatively smart.

    • by TWiTfan (2887093)

      Seriously, nobody is actually proposing this, are they?

      Artificially tampering with Mother Nature by bringing back extinct species into modern environs is probably even worse in the end than (maybe) helping to drive them into extinction to begin with. Sometimes, it's best to just let it go. Much as I would love to see the beautiful Carolina Parakeet [wikipedia.org] back in the wild (and maybe even own one as a pet), I know it's best not to go tampering around where my good intentions could lead to very unexpected (and perhaps very unpleasant) results.

      • by tompaulco (629533)

        Artificially tampering with Mother Nature by bringing back extinct species into modern environs is probably even worse in the end than (maybe) helping to drive them into extinction to begin with.

        Jurassic Park anybody?

      • by HiThere (15173)

        I can see a lot of benefit in elephants, but somebody had better consider how much they eat, and that the bulls tend to be a bit unpleasant when they go into must.

        Mastodons make more sense, but I don't think we can do that this year. And if warming continues, then they'll stop making more sense. (They make more sense because they can live in areas that are unpleasantly cold for most people, and where most of our crops won't grow...trees excepted. I don't know if even the mamoths could live out on the tun

      • by khallow (566160)

        I know it's best not to go tampering around where my good intentions could lead to very unexpected (and perhaps very unpleasant) results.

        I see your point with one caveat. You don't actually "know" what you claim to know. Good intentions can lead to very unpleasant results or they could lead to very wonderful results. One way to find out is by actually doing it and seeing what happens.

      • I know it's best not to go tampering around where my good intentions could lead to very unexpected (and perhaps very unpleasant) results.

        Indeed, but what if by not tampering around, you fail to stop some very unexpected (and perhaps very unpleasant) scenario? How do you know the Carolina Parakeet isn't our only weapon against an impending alien invasion / zombie apocalypse / Bieber album? See, that argument cuts both ways.

    • by jythie (914043)
      'nobody' is a pretty big space. Anyone can propose anything, just look at any slashdot thread. The question really is, is someone with any significant chance of being taken seriously or who has actual political power proposing it?

      Though it sounds like the elephant one is not all that crazy since the idea would be to take a particular species of elephant that is currently endangered and start a colony of it in the southwest where it would fill a niche by eating types of plants that are threatening other t
    • I'd rather have a .270, thank you very much. Ye Olde Elephant Gun is highly over rated. That little old .270 can be wildcatted to take on the biggest of game, or it can be light loaded for squirrel hunting. And, the .270 is amazingly accurate at long range, no matter how you load it. My second choice is the .308, but it's less versatile as a varmint gun. Squirrels, rabbits, and prairie dogs just go splat when you hit them.

      • You have to be careful with elephants. If you don't kill one outright, it will run over and flatten you. Plus, let's not forget they are herd animals -- miss one and you're now dealing with a dozen angry, upset, intelligent, truck sized animals. I'm not saying a .270 isn't good enough -- frankly I don't know; but, I suspect there's a reason hunters of old liked to use the very large caliber, high weight, magnum rounds.
        • People used to hunt them with spears ! Man up, you wussies!

          If we had more people like you, we'd be overrun with mammoths.
          • by HiThere (15173)

            I think Neanderthls used spears. Humans don't seem to have done that often. Fire was used (and yeah, it was destructive and wasteful...but less dangerous to the hunter).

            OTOH, if you go to more modern times (but before firearms), the approach was apparently to have a sharpened blade, something like a machete, and then sneak up on the elephant and cut his achilies tendon. But you need to have a very sharp blade, and be quite stealthy. Then you run off and hide until the prey is left along. THEN you use y

          • I'll hunt with a spear when I have to. I'll hunt with a .270 if it's appropriate. If it's not, I'll use the right tool for the job.

            I was making a light-hearted attempt to point out that a .270 might not be the right tool for the job. Your welcome to your spear; but, remember, the mortality rate for Neolithic hunters was pretty high.

      • by swb (14022)

        I dont think there's any credible African guides who would let you hunt dangerous game -- elephant, Cape buffalo, rhino or lion with anything smaller than .375 H&H mag to avoid a wounding shot, and of course to keep you from getting killed.

        Many of the intermediate calibers are very versitile, but .270 tops out at 150gr bullets and hotting them up only gets you so far. With close ranges and great accuracy, Elk is about as big an animal as you'd want to take.

      • Walt Bell would probably agree, he was famous for dropping elephants with a 7x57.
  • by Novogrudok (2486718) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @01:43PM (#46102317)

    Large mammals managed to survive for a long, long time before people came to Americas and then, shortly after people came, they were killed off by "climate and environmental changes"? Sounds a bit fishy to me!

    • by jythie (914043) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @01:58PM (#46102507)
      To be fair, humans were able to migrate to the Americas because of a shift in the climate, so it is plausible that both effects had the same cause rather then one causing the other.
    • by T.E.D. (34228)

      Large mammals managed to survive for a long, long time before people came to Americas and then, shortly after people came, they were killed off by "climate and environmental changes"? Sounds a bit fishy to me!

      This is exactly the problem, and I don't see anything in these "new findings" addressing it. What I'm seeing here is two-fold:

      1) There were actually two megafauna die-offs, and the first happened before there were humans in the Americas. This is actually a reasonable argument, but it only addresses half the issue.

      2)There's a part of the continent where we have found megafauna from before the second die-off, but we haven't yet found a lot of evidence in those specimens of human predation. This argument I f

      • by Alomex (148003)

        In other words, a decisive amount of circumstantial evidence is already pointing us toward humans as at least a part of the cause of the second die-off. The burden of proof is on those who want to claim humans had nothing to do with it. But all they are claiming here is, "lack of evidence" (and only in a small area too, there's plenty of that evidence elsewhere), but that does not help them.

        Exactly. I've been studying science for long enough to know that there are times when it gives rather surprising novel explanations to phenomena we thought we had explained away. So while it would be a surprise to learn that it wasn't humans, as a scientist I'm prepared to be blown out of the water any time.

        However, this is not the first study trying to argue that "humans didn't do it" and none of them have the weight of evidence nor the "aha!" explanatory power of conventional-wisdom turning discoveries. T

        • by spitzak (4019)

          In all likelihood humans ran into a system of weakened prey species (ice age anyone?) that might or might not have survived if we hadn't shown up, and we delivered the coup de grace by hunting them down.

          That's what the paper says in the first paragraph of the abstract, so they agree with your idea.

          But the paper just shows that the decline in the big species predates the largest number of humans. All that might mean is that humans were really efficient at killing them off, so that they were going extinct fro

    • Large mammals managed to survive for a long, long time before people came to Americas and then, shortly after people came, they were killed off by "climate and environmental changes"? Sounds a bit fishy to me!

      Tobacco comes from the Americas. They obviously all died of smoking-related illnesses!

    • The same thing happened to Australia's magafauna at roughly the same time, this also coincided with a wave of people coming from Asia but Australia was already populated long before that.. The new arrivals brought dogs (dingos). However regional movements of people cannot be the whole story since the megafauna die off was global. It was probably a bit of both, humans were just better equipped to survive the changes by moving, mass migration of humans simply added to the stress on megafauna populations.

      In
  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @02:18PM (#46102723)

    There are very few cases where introducing a non-native species into the wild has turned out to be a good thing. There are hundreds of examples of things going wrong. Just look up invasive species [wikipedia.org]. Our track record is not good.

  • I thought porn brought that about in the 90s?

  • Unfortunately TFA is Slashdotted, so an informed discussion of the actual science will not happen today.

    Before reading this study, I was learning heavily to the human-predation side of the debate, because as I understand it multiple climate zones of North America were affected simultaneously and over a very short time period that happens to coincide with the development of Clovis spearpoints [wikipedia.org].

    No doubt the researchers have a rebuttal for this explanation, but like I said ... it's slashdotted.

  • by grapes911 (646574) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @03:02PM (#46103129)
    I very stupidly just Googled "giant beaver" at work.
  • There are several hundred elephants already in the United States. The number of big cats is startling as well -- for some species there may be a greater number in the U.S. than left in the wild. All we need now is a couple of releases... (queue the PETA folks doing something stupid).
  • Read "Breasts" at first glance?
  • ...of COURSE the explanation (today) is 'climate change'.

    My shoe was untied this morning, I'm pretty sure it was due to climate change.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @04:20PM (#46103871)
    "We did, we did."
  • And drinking. Man, those mammals were *wild!*

  • Seriously.

    It's not bad enough that these scumbags have a stranglehold on scientific research publishing. The primary website to which the summary points requires the reader to allow so many third-party scripts to run that I simply gave up on the article altogether.

    Oh, and FUCK SLASHDOT for pointing me to such a piece-of-shit website in the first place.

  • Before re-introducing the elephant and the lion, let's get the wolf fully established in its old territory. Should take care of the surplus population of troublesome creatures, such as deer, geese, and tourists.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov

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