No evidence for widespread island extinctions after Pleistocene hominin arrival

Publication Name

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


The arrival of modern humans into previously unoccupied island ecosystems is closely linked to widespread extinction, and a key reason cited for Pleistocene megafauna extinction is anthropogenic overhunting. A common assumption based on late Holocene records is that humans always negatively impact insular biotas, which requires an extrapolation of recent human behavior and technology into the archaeological past. Hominins have been on islands since at least the early Pleistocene and Homo sapiens for at least 50 thousand y (ka). Over such lengthy intervals it is scarcely surprising that significant evolutionary, behavioral, and cultural changes occurred. However, the deep-time link between human arrival and island extinctions has never been explored globally. Here, we examine archaeological and paleontological records of all Pleistocene islands with a documented hominin presence to examine whether humans have always been destructive agents. We show that extinctions at a global level cannot be associated with Pleistocene hominin arrival based on current data and are difficult to disentangle from records of environmental change. It is not until the Holocene that large-scale changes in technology, dispersal, demography, and human behavior visibly affect island ecosystems. The extinction acceleration we are currently experiencing is thus not inherent but rather part of a more recent cultural complex.

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