Toronto – Thousands of years ago, iconic ancient herbivores, such as woolly mammoths, giant bison and ancient horses roamed the earth and played an important role for the world’s grassland ecosystems. Now, a new study has found that the extinction of these animals could lead to an increase in grassland fires around the world.
The study, led by researchers at Yale University and the Utah Natural History Museum, looked at the effects of the Quaternary Extinction that occurred between 50,000 and 6,000 years ago. He published his findings in magazine Science Feather Thursday.
“These extinctions led to consequences,” said corresponding author Alison Karp in a news release. “Studying these effects helps us better understand how herbivores shape the global ecology today.”
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In South America, 83 percent of the large herbivorous species became extinct, the highest of all continents. North America saw 68 percent of its species go extinct, while losses in Australia and Africa were 44 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
The researchers set out to see if the extinction of these grazing species could lead to more fires in grassy areas. He believed that the build-up of grass in these ecosystems could lead to an increase in grass fires due to the lack of grass-eating animals.
They examined charcoal data from lake sediments taken from 410 sites around the world, offering evidence of historical fire data. They then compared this data to the percentage of large herbivores that went extinct.
The researchers found that continents that saw more shepherd extinctions, such as South America, had larger increases in fire activity. In contrast, Australia and Africa, which saw lower extinction rates, saw little change in grassland fire activity.
However, the extinction of species that feed on shrubs and trees, such as mastodons and giant sloths, had little effect on wildfires.
The authors say their research underscores the important role that grazing livestock and herbivorous species play when it comes to reducing wildfires, as climate change continues to intensify extreme weather events. Huh.
“This work really highlights how important grazing can be in shaping fire activity,” senior author Carla Staver said in a news release. “We have to pay close attention to these interactions if we want to accurately predict the future of fires.”