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Cow Could Soon Be Largest Land Mammal Left Due To Human Activity, Says Study (theguardian.com) 245

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The cow could be left as the biggest land mammal on Earth in a few centuries, according to a new study that examines the extinction of large mammals as humans spread around the world. The spread of hominims -- early humans and related species such as Neanderthals -- from Africa thousands of years ago coincided with the extinction of megafauna such as the mammoth, the sabre-toothed tiger and the glyptodon, an armadillo-like creature the size of a car. "There is a very clear pattern of size-biased extinction that follows the migration of hominims out of Africa," the study's lead author, Felisa Smith, of the University of New Mexico, said of the study published in the journal Science on Thursday. Humans apparently targeted big species for meat, while smaller creatures such as rodents escaped, according the report, which examined trends over 125,000 years. In North America, for instance, the mean body mass of land-based mammals has shrunk to 7.6kg (17lb) from 98kg after humans arrived. If the trend continues "the largest mammal on Earth in a few hundred years may well be a domestic cow at about 900kg", the researchers wrote. That would mean the loss of elephants, giraffes and hippos. In March, the world's last male northern white rhino died in Kenya.
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Cow Could Soon Be Largest Land Mammal Left Due To Human Activity, Says Study

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  • Cows? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by UncleTogie ( 1004853 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @11:33PM (#56492327) Homepage Journal

    Are moose endangered or something?

    • Re:Cows? (Score:5, Informative)

      by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2018 @12:32AM (#56492479)

      In Minnesota, moose populations are having difficulty with warmer winters leading to a higher parasite load (ticks). The warmer summers also stresses them.

      In addition, at least one study has forecasted that with the expected amount of global warming, Minnesota forests will turn to grasslands in about a hundred years. The prairie/forest border will move up to the area of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

      So at least where I'm at, moose may be locally extinct in a hundred years.

    • Chronic societal obesity will change this. MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO !

    • by tsqr ( 808554 )

      Are moose endangered or something?

      Not particularly. But they don't outweigh cows, either. An adult male moose may weigh as much as 1500 lbs; cows weigh in at around 1600 lbs. Both are smaller than the bull, though, at 2400 lb. TFS says "domestic cow at about 900kg" (1980 lb). That's a really big cow, but not as large as a bull.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Well, the entire point is not yet.

      What will do the moose in is the same thing that did the auroch in in the 1600s - habitat loss. The giant auroch is the wild ancestor of domestic cattle, and was an important game species from paleolithic times up to the Middle Ages. It was probably the very first species human attempted to prevent from going extinct, first by increasingly restrictive hunting limits, and then by establishing reserves. But an animal that size (over three thousand pounds in the paleolithic

  • by Dallas May ( 4891515 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @11:41PM (#56492355)

    Being tasty or useful to humans.

    • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2018 @12:03AM (#56492415) Journal

      Being tasty or useful to humans.

      Which is exactly why this study has the wrong conclusion. Thanks to all those tasty cows helping to cause an obesity epidemic in a few centuries, the largest land mammal will be humans, not cows.

      • Why would beef be related to the obesity epidemic?
        • It's a key ingredient in many fast food meals.
          • It's a key ingredient in many fast food meals.

            That's like claiming that a toy surprise is a reason for obesity because it is a key ingredient in happy meals. Or cardboard. Or lettuce. It's not the beef itself, it's the other stuff, and the amounts.

            • That's like claiming that a toy surprise is a reason for obesity because it is a key ingredient in happy meals.

              If you are eating the toy surprise then I definitely agree that obesity is not your primary concern. However, since the beef is one of the sources of the fat content in fast food you are deluding yourself if you think it's contribution to the overall nutritional value of the meal is equivalent to the lettuce. Note that I never claimed it was entirely responsible only that it 'helped'. There are clearly lots of other bad things in fast food but the fat content of the processed beef is one.

      • No... just no. What's causing the obesity epidemic is the combination of helicopter parenting restricting kids from any significant outdoor activity and sugar intake(probably HFCS intake but until someone follows up on the rat study with pig and monkey studies that one's unconfirmed).

    • Perhaps you meant 'being easily farmable'. Because that's definitely not true for many ocean fish that are being caught to extinction.

      • Perhaps you meant 'being easily farmable'. Because that's definitely not true for many ocean fish that are being caught to extinction.

        Well, it's a mix. We don't farm deer or ducks but we've activaly undertaken various efforts to keep their populations at healthy levels because they make for good eatin', and we don't wanna lose that. It's hard with ocean fisheries because we don't have legal control of international waters or the waters of other nation-states.

        Basically you have to either be easily farmable or lucky enough to live within the borders of a semi-responsible country.

    • It's no longer evolution so much as selective breeding.

    • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2018 @03:43AM (#56492849) Journal

      Passenger pigeons were tasty. They're extinct. A lot of other animals were "useful" at one time and went extinct, such as colorful birds in North America that all got killed for lady's hats.

      Simply being tasty and/or useful apparently isn't enough; but it does help. Whales--almost extinct but huge, majestic, romantic. and protected *now*. That was a close call. Pandas! Whoah, big, furry, cute, stupid, and the PRC uses them as a symbol. These guys really have it dialed in; but they still almost got wiped out because of their specialized diet making it hard for them to live outside of their region. If panda evolution were really that great, they'd have figured out how to live on garbage.

      We have a critter that does that, and they even call it the "trash panda". Raccoons. Big. Sort of useful as rustic hats. You can eat them... but most people don't. It's dark meat, and really not as gamey as you'd think; but I digress. The trash panda is not endangered. It's adapted to us better than the other panda.

      I guess the point is... tasty and useful is trumped by a lot of other factors. I mean... roaches, gack! They're everywhere in the city, and we do all kinds of things to kill them but they just keep going. They're not useful. Only a few people obsessed with trying to make us all insectivores would call them tasty. The roach is hearty and omnivorous. It lives off our garbage.

      A better way to sum up the greatest evolutionary advantage would be: "being able to co-exist with humans".

    • It's true. If you look at the total biomass of mammals it's all cattle, humans and pets, and the odd elephant thrown in for irony.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      I dunno, cats are neither tasty nor particularly useful (unless you have a vermin problem), but have effectively enslaved millions of humans and risen to the top of the evolutionary pile.

      I'm hesitant to say that is an evolutionary adaptation, because it seems more like luck that they evolved to be highly efficient genocidal sociopaths and extremely compelling "pets" for a significant number of humans. So less adaptation and more blind luck, or a flaw in the human brain that makes it susceptible to abuse by

      • ... less adaptation and more blind luck... .

        That's a good tagline for evolution in a nutshell.

      • I dunno, cats are neither tasty nor particularly useful (unless you have a vermin problem)

        That's exactly why they're useful. I know of a warehouse (a few decades ago now) that kept cats to hunt down the mice that were eating paper and cardboard. They were also good at hunting rats that were spreading all kinds of nasty diseases.

  • Most mass extinction events end up with fewer large animals surviving, including those long before people arrived. See Lilliput effect. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilliput_effect) The point of the article in the summary is that people are driving this extinction event, but I'd be cautious about making that correlation too casually. We're also living in the only time in biological history when one species was trying to preserve the others.
  • by williamyf ( 227051 ) on Monday April 23, 2018 @11:58PM (#56492395)

    I've said it before and I'll say it again:

    Take species that are alive right now, and re-introduce tem in areas where animals similar to those species became extint.

    This is not unprecedented. In the pleistocene, there were horses in America, those became extint, and later re-introduced, with little or no effect in the ecosystem

    Same with the Hippos in colombia (imported by no other than Pablo Escobar Gaviria, of "Narco" fame). Here, the efect on the ecosystem is low, but since the animals are very territorial, the populalition has a relationship with them of "Awe and respect"

    In Venezuela there used to be an animal called Mixotoxodon Larensis, similar (but not related to) rhinos and hippos. It went all the way from brazil to Texas (the toxodon originated in patagonia, but our variation traveled more). We could re-introduce rhinos in venezuela and Brazil. Rhinos eat grass, like cows, so no biggie for the ecosystem, and are not a huge problem for humans (unlike Hippos hicha are VERY territorial).

    In Venezuela we used to have a thinguie called the mastodons (other parts of america had them too, they came from the north), similar to elephants, so we may as well adopt elephants, either african, assian or both. Again, vegetarians, big, no biggie for the environmet.

    Also, we used to have gavialoids (there are crocodiles, aligators, and gavials), but they became extinct, so may as well get gavials and "fake gavials" (which, funny enough, turned out to be true gavials ;-) ) which are on the brink to extintion, and re-deploy. Since they eat only fish, are no danger to humans, and could deploy in places with "bad" fish (think piranha or electric eels).

    I think a similar case could be made about the other continents.

    The opportunities are plentyfull, is just the disposition.

    • by Zobeid ( 314469 )

      We could bring endangered African cheetahs over here to the USA and let them chase after pronghorn antelope in exactly the way that our now-extinct American cheetah (Miracinonyx) once did. (And this idea wouldn't even be possible to contemplate if we hadn't first saved the pronghorn from near-extinction by over-hunting.)

  • That is why some of us believe that de-extinction is the ethical choice.

    The U.S. has vast tracts of undeveloped wilderness under federal and state ownership. Additionally, the nation is substantially over-farmed because of that rediculous corn ethanol mandate. There is certailnly space for them.

    We should bring some of these great creatures back in North America to undo some of the harm humankind has already done.

    • This. It seems like I have this conversation with anyone about the subject.

      "We are thinking about de-extincting the woolly mammoth. This is awesome!"
      "Shouldn't we think carefully about re-introducing an extinct species into the world? Didn't they die off for a *reason* ?"
      "Do you know what that reason was?"
      "No"
      "It turns out the reason for their extinction was "too delicious to live". Being large, slow-moving, dumb, made of meat, and having an awesome pelt means that humans LOVED to kill them. Best thing

  • by ooloorie ( 4394035 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2018 @12:46AM (#56492489)

    Even better, in 400 years, extrapolation shows that the larges land mammal will have negative mass.

    Negative mass is great news: not only can we use such animals for large scale balloon powered flight (in place of expensive helium or dangerous hydrogen), when such negative masses are properly arranged they can create wormholes, allowing for instantaneous interstellar travel!

  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2018 @01:09AM (#56492549)

    We nearly made bison extunct, but these days we are farming them, and bison burgers do taste good...

  • Sorry, but, "... hominims..." is wrong.

    However, "hominin" (or at a stretch "hominid") would be correct. See the diagram at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] and see the original article that uses "hominin" liberally: http://science.sciencemag.org/... [sciencemag.org]

  • by Tjp($)pjT ( 266360 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2018 @01:40AM (#56492629)
    Horses can be much bigger than cattle.
    • What about southern trailer park women? Oh, yeah, they said "cows" would be the largest land mammal, didn't say what kind of cow.

  • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <charleshixsn@nOSpAm.earthlink.net> on Tuesday April 24, 2018 @02:07AM (#56492681)

    Aren't water buffalo larger than cows? I rather think that they are, and they are clearly not on their way out.

    That said, the "red list" is clearly an underestimate of the threatened animal species. It's more a list of "those in imminent danger this decade". It's really hard to figure out which species are in more distant danger of extinction. This partially depends on how the climate changes, and what unexpected events this causes. Someone above mentioned moose. They don't currently seem to be in danger, but they depend on a certain ecology, IIRC, they are browsers rather than grazers, so they need trees and shrubs they can eat, etc. If a warming climate dries out the territory where they're living and turns it into a grassland, they'll need to migrate, and often it turns out that new migration routes are blocked. That's not likely a "this decade" kind of danger, but it's an "if this goes on..." kind of danger.

    A lot of animals would do a lot better if people and fences didn't block their path to a better territory. But unlike most animals, people are even territorial about other species passing through their territory. (There are, of course, good reasons, but that doesn't change the problem.)

  • Hominim? I thought he was good in 8 Mile...

  • Just saw one nostrils steaming, and big as a freight train still roaming the untracked West.

  • > "the largest mammal on Earth in a few hundred years may well be a domestic cow at about 900kg"

    Guinness says the heaviest human they've weighed is 635 kg (1,400 pounds).

    Present trends suggest that in a few hundred years, humans may be the largest land mammals.

    • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

      Present trends suggest that in a few hundred years, humans may be the largest land mammals.

      Some would argue we're already the tastiest.

  • Well unless we are planning to get rid of bison [wikipedia.org] or water buffalo which are generally bigger than cows that isn't likely to be true even for captive animals. Heck some breeds of draft horses [wikipedia.org] are about the same size as the biggest cows. The biggest draft horse ever weighed in at about 1525kg.

    • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

      We've already had tremendous success in our efforts exterminate Bison. They were down to 300 in 1900, and have only recently recovered past 100k, which is still a far cry from their earlier population of 100M.

      As it currently stands, the Bison's fate will likely follow that of the Auroch - extinction by domestication.

  • The majority of this documented trend seems to be based on hunting. And that makes sense, because for the majority of human existence we were hunter-gatherers.

    The shift to agriculture marked a big change in human society, but agriculture hasn't been kind to large animals either. We've put up fences to impede their movement, and we've treated them as pests that prey on our livestock or trample and eat our crops.

    Now we're in another big shift, to industrialization. How will an ever-more-industrialized worl

  • There's a paywall, so I can't read the thing to see if there's anything actually new in there, but from the abstract it doesn't look like there is. I'm pretty sure we already knew that humans ate almost all of the megafauna, but if they came up with some interesting model to describe it that's kinda neat.

    What isn't neat or interesting or meaningful or even valid is the silly prediction in the title. Here's some reasons why: 1. Most remaining megafauna is found in places where humans have been the long

    • One difference from earlier times is habitat destruction. That kills lots of species, and we're doing it pretty fast nowadays.

  • If we learn enough to recover lost species, which seems inevitable, then we will probably reverse that trend. With the destruction of habitat it won't mean much but I expect animals like elephants to at least exist in theme park type settings. for what that's worth.
  • I mean, how can one argue with a post like that? I "could" receive my gold-plated potty, towed by my pony, in the next twenty minutes. The oceans "could" boil from global warming, turning the Earth into a Venus-a-like. The Higgs boson "could" have reached a state somewhere in the Universe just out of sight where particles lose their mass and the wave of Universal extinction "could" be rolling towards us to end the Universe (in the vicinity of the Earth) long before we lose all the large land animals.

    Heck

    • I extrapolated a population curve from the mid 1300s and found out the last human died when cowboyneal left slashdot. bastard, leaving us to die like that....

  • Why? Because all the overpopulated areas of the world depend heavily on technology for their existence, and will diminish said population when the electricity is turned off for a few years. When will that happen? When our undefended electric grid succumbs to a Carrington-event-scale solar tantrum. Word is that US population will drop by 90%. 30 million people aren't going to make shit go extinct. They may be eaten by the residual mountain lions and grizzly bears, tho...

  • "... an armadillo-like creature the size of a car."

    Thanks for that. I was running out of nightmare fuel.

  • Odd name for a journal. Is it based in Sheffield?

  • Just breed more delicious elephants
  • ...for not being more delicious.

  • It makes sense large animals were hunted for meat in the past. But going forward, since we have and raise cows there is no reason to hunt large animals for meat, so they will carry on.

    There's no reason to think for example that elephants will vanish in a few hundred years.

    • It's also notable sabertooth cats keep popping up, then going extinct. Bad example.

      Fun fact to know when you rub under a housecat's chin and you get poked by teeth.

  • by whodunit ( 2851793 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2018 @01:27PM (#56495329)

    I guess these researchers just plumb forgot that buffalo are still raised as domestic animals in much of the country. There's a ranch not a few miles from me that does, and a few local small-town eateries have "bison burgers" on the menu - expensive, but literally a nice change of taste on occasion.

    I hate it when scientists do this - massage facts for better PR impact (the link between cows and human domestication for human use is much stronger than with bison.) Those worthies among us who worship "The Science" with pseudoreligious zeal take exception to those who can't reconcile that faith with the less-than-saintly deviations scientists make into PR.

    Somewhere along the line, scientists figured out that if journalists could twist their papers into moronic headlines and get away with it, then they could write the headlines into their conclusions and do the same. What a shitshow.

  • And yet, the largest land animal, the elephant, continues on in Africa where these extinctions started, and even in India, one of the more heavily populated areas of the world. Then there is the rhinos and hippos (still in Africa).

  • Do these researchers not know of Wal*Mart?
  • by jwhyche ( 6192 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2018 @03:19PM (#56496149) Homepage

    I'm doing my part. I'm eating as many of the damn things as I can!

  • I really hoped this story was about our ability to produce elephant+ sized cows in the future and was hoping to live long enough to buy a brisket I could smoke and then crawl inside to eat my way out. Turns out it was just another dream that will never come true.

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