The Archaeological record of human impacts on animal populations
Journal of World Prehistory
prehistoric human impacts biogeography extinction translocation conservation pleistocene mammalian extinctions exulans bone gelatin rat rattus exulans new-zealand late quaternary north-america late-holocene great-basin environmental-change white mountains Tapir Bibliography
Recent archaeological research has fundamentally altered our understanding of the scope of past human impacts on nondomesticated animal populations. Predictions derived from foraging theory concerning the abundance histories of high-return human prey and diet breadth have been meet in many parts of the world. People are known to have introduced a broad variety of nondomesticated animals, from sponges to agoutis and rats, to a remarkably broad set of contexts, in turn causing a wide variety of secondary impacts. By increasing the incidence of fire, human colonists have in some cases transformed the nature of the vegetation on the colonized landscape, in turn dramatically affecting animal populations on those landscapes. In island settings, these triple threats--predation, biotic introductions, and vegetation alteration--routinely led to extinctions but there is no archaeological evidence that small-scale societies caused extinction by predation alone on islands or continents. Indeed, the recent history of this famous argument suggests that it is better seen as a statement of faith about the past rather than as an appeal to reason. Perhaps most importantly, our burgeoning knowledge of past human impacts on animals has important implications for the conservation biology of the future.