Who killed the Diprotodon?
About 45,000 years ago the Diprotodon disappeared, along with the Australian megafauna … Our weMORI detective is investigating the matter.
#megafauna #Australia #sapiens #biodiversity #climatechange #extinction
The portrait of the victim was hanging on my white wall, surrounded by many pins representing diverse clues and evidence.
It was named Diprotodon and used to live in Australia thousands of years ago. I must admit I was quite impressed by the stature of the victim, a car-sized creature, looking slightly similar to the (still alive) short and stocky wombat.
OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay
Climate change, innocent?
I was filling my pipe with high-quality, organic, community-grown tobacco, thinking about the tragic fate of the victim. At first, I had the feeling climate change might have something to do with this affair. After all, wasn’t it a perfect culprit?
45,000 years ago, Australia’s climate did change and it wouldn’t be the first time it was involved in suspicious disappearances. Climate is a flux and never really rests. But even though evolutions are constant, something was not adding up this time. The Diprotodon appeared in Australia about 1.5 million years ago and survived several instances of climatic change, some much more remarkable than this one. It didn’t make sense that such a small blow would have defeated such a sturdy creature.
Then, another thing came to my attention. It wasn’t only about the Diprotodon. At around the same time, 90% of Australia’s terrestrial megafauna went extinct.… But the oceanic fauna? Nothing had happened to them. It didn’t make sense. Climate change wasn’t the kind to spare the inhabitants of the waters.
At this stage of my investigation, it was becoming more and more difficult to only blame climate change. It might have destabilized the ecosystem and made it more vulnerable than usual, but it couldn’t have been the one to give the final blow to the poor Diprotodon.
Diprotodon optatum – a giant marsupial from Pleistocene of Australia.
Creator: Dmitry Bogdanov
Homo sapiens, guilty of charge?
I couldn't stop thinking about another peculiar creature, who had been responsible for many disappearances. Whenever the so-called Homo sapiens would settle in a new area, massive change in biodiversity would occur. New Zealand, Eurasia, North America… If the Australian extinction was an isolated event, I would have never suspected Homo sapiens, but in the current situation, it was difficult not to think about it.
Coincidence or not, homo sapiens set foot in Australia about 45,000 years ago.
Like the other victims of the megafauna extinction from the period, the Diprotodon was a rather large animal. Large animals breed slowly. Pregnancy is long, and offspring are few. Even if they were not hunting a huge amount, it may have been that the Diprotodon were not able to breed fast enough to make up for their declining population. It could be that hunting led them to extinction within a few thousand years.
Above all, when Homo sapiens reached Australia, they had already mastered agriculture and fire, it’s likely their activities might have reshaped the whole landscape and fauna to build a more familiar and welcoming environment.
The arrival of Homo sapiens in Australia might have completely changed the ecology of the continent, inducing the disappearance of the majestic Diprotodon.
I sighed deeply, my pipe in my hand.
To me, it seemed like history was repeating itself again and again.
The sixth mass extinction was raging, a mass murder orchestrated by Homo Sapiens.
I could just hope, this time, it would learn from its past mistakes.
Yuval Noah Harari (2011). Sapiens, a Brief History of HumanKind, Vintage edition
“People Braved Australia’s Western Desert Roughly 45,000 Years Ago” Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/people-braved-australias-western-desert-45000-years-ago-180970421/
Post cover photo credit: Ryan Buterbaugh