An elephant's face, trunk, and tusks in profile

Missing Megafauna

Jun 5, 2023 | Campus Connections, Spring 2023

New research by University of New Mexico biologist Felisa Smith has identified profound impacts from the loss of large-bodied mammals – or megafauna – in ecosystems. Smith and her colleagues recently published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the research, Smith and her team looked to the past to gain clues about the future of large mammals, like elephants and rhinoceros, which are declining at an alarming rate.

“The conservation status of large-bodied mammals on Earth today is dire,” Smith says. “Their decline has serious consequences because they have unique ecological roles. But this sort of biodiversity loss has happened before. Humans entering the Americas at the terminal Pleistocene around 13,000 years ago caused a widespread extinction of the large-bodied mammals present then through some of the same activities that endanger mammals today. Here, we use the fossil record of this earlier extinction to explore what happened afterwards to the surviving mammals.”

Spring 2023 Mirage Magazine Features


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