Did Humans Survive an Extinction Level Event?

November 30, 2019  Topic: History  Region: Europe  Blog Brand: The Buzz  Tags: EvolutionHumansExtinctionAnthropologySurvival

Warfare became a check on population growth, perhaps the most important one.

Nine human species walked the Earth 300,000 years ago. Now there is just one. The Neanderthals, Homo neanderthalensis, were stocky hunters adapted to Europe’s cold steppes. The related Denisovans inhabited Asia, while the more primitive Homo erectus lived in Indonesia, and Homo rhodesiensis in central Africa.

Several short, small-brained species survived alongside them: Homo naledi in South Africa, Homo luzonensis in the Philippines, Homo floresiensis (“hobbits”) in Indonesia, and the mysterious Red Deer Cave People in China. Given how quickly we’re discovering new species, more are likely waiting to be found.

By 10,000 years ago, they were all gone. The disappearance of these other species resembles a mass extinction. But there’s no obvious environmental catastrophe – volcanic eruptions, climate change, asteroid impact – driving it. Instead, the extinctions’ timing suggests they were caused by the spread of a new species, evolving 260,000-350,000 years ago in Southern AfricaHomo sapiens.

The spread of modern humans out of Africa has caused a sixth mass extinction, a greater than 40,000-year event extending from the disappearance of Ice Age mammals to the destruction of rainforests by civilisation today. But were other humans the first casualties?

Human evolution. Nick Longrich

We are a uniquely dangerous species. We hunted wooly mammoths, ground sloths and moas to extinction. We destroyed plains and forests for farming, modifying over half the planet’s land area. We altered the planet’s climate. But we are most dangerous to other human populations, because we compete for resources and land.

History is full of examples of people warring, displacing and wiping out other groups over territory, from Rome’s destruction of Carthage, to the American conquest of the West and the British colonisation of Australia. There have also been recent genocides and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Rwanda and Myanmar. Like language or tool use, a capacity for and tendency to engage in genocide is arguably an intrinsic, instinctive part of human nature. There’s little reason to think that early Homo sapiens were less territorial, less violent, less intolerant – less human.

Optimists have painted early hunter-gatherers as peaceful, noble savages, and have argued that our culture, not our nature, creates violence. But field studies, historical accounts, and archaeology all show that war in primitive cultures was intense, pervasive and lethal. Neolithic weapons such as clubs, spears, axes and bows, combined with guerrilla tactics like raids and ambushes, were devastatingly effective. Violence was the leading cause of death among men in these societies, and wars saw higher casualty levels per person than World Wars I and II.

Old bones and artefacts show this violence is ancient. The 9,000-year-old Kennewick Man, from North America, has a spear point embedded in his pelvis. The 10,000-year-old Nataruk site in Kenya documents the brutal massacre of at least 27 men, women, and children.

It’s unlikely that the other human species were much more peaceful. The existence of cooperative violence in male chimps suggests that war predates the evolution of humans. Neanderthal skeletons show patterns of trauma consistent with warfare. But sophisticated weapons likely gave Homo sapiens a military advantage. The arsenal of early Homo sapiens probably included projectile weapons like javelins and spear-throwers, throwing sticks and clubs.

Complex tools and culture would also have helped us efficiently harvest a wider range of animals and plants, feeding larger tribes, and giving our species a strategic advantage in numbers.

The ultimate weapon

But cave paintingscarvings, and musical instruments hint at something far more dangerous: a sophisticated capacity for abstract thought and communication. The ability to cooperate, plan, strategisemanipulate and deceive may have been our ultimate weapon.

The incompleteness of the fossil record makes it hard to test these ideas. But in Europe, the only place with a relatively complete archaeological record, fossils show that within a few thousand years of our arrival , Neanderthals vanished. Traces of Neanderthal DNA in some Eurasian people prove we didn’t just replace them after they went extinct. We met, and we mated.

Elsewhere, DNA tells of other encounters with archaic humans. East Asian, Polynesian and Australian groups have DNA from Denisovans. DNA from another species, possibly Homo erectus, occurs in many Asian people. African genomes show traces of DNA from yet another archaic species. The fact that we interbred with these other species proves that they disappeared only after encountering us.

But why would our ancestors wipe out their relatives, causing a mass extinction – or, perhaps more accurately, a mass genocide?

13,000-year-old spear points from Colorado. Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution

The answer lies in population growth. Humans reproduce exponentially, like all species. Unchecked, we historically doubled our numbers every 25 years. And once humans became cooperative hunters, we had no predators. Without predation controlling our numbers, and little family planning beyond delayed marriage and infanticide, populations grew to exploit the available resources.

Further growth, or food shortages caused by drought, harsh winters or overharvesting resources would inevitably lead tribes into conflict over food and foraging territory. Warfare became a check on population growth, perhaps the most important one.

Our elimination of other species probably wasn’t a planned, coordinated effort of the sort practised by civilisations, but a war of attrition. The end result, however, was just as final. Raid by raid, ambush by ambush, valley by valley, modern humans would have worn down their enemies and taken their land.

Yet the extinction of Neanderthals, at least, took a long time – thousands of years. This was partly because early Homo sapiens lacked the advantages of later conquering civilisations: large numbers, supported by farming, and epidemic diseases like smallpox, flu, and measles that devastated their opponents. But while Neanderthals lost the war, to hold on so long they must have fought and won many battles against us, suggesting a level of intelligence close to our own.

The Conversation————————————————————————————————————–

Nick Longrich, Senior Lecturer, Paleontology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Bath

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

Altered forests threaten sustainability of subsistence hunting

Hunting responsible for mammal declines in half of intact tropical forests


Hunting responsible for mammal declines in half of intact tropical forests
The authors assert that, ‘Retaining the integrity of intact tropical forests will not be possible if global and national environmental strategies do not address ongoing hunting practices.’ Credit: Ruth Archer from Pixabay

Defaunation—the loss of species or decline of animal populations—is reaching even the most remote and pristine tropical forests. Within the tropics, only 20% of the remaining area is considered intact, where no logging or deforestation has been detected by remote sensing. However, a new study publishing May 14 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, led by Ana Benítez-López from Radboud University, the Netherlands, predicts that even under the seemingly undisturbed canopy, hunting is reducing populations of large mammals by 40% on average, largely due to increased human accessibility to these remote areas.

Overhunting, as opposed to deforestation, is undetectable by  techniques, and to date, there were vast understudied areas in the tropics where hunting impacts on mammal communities were unknown. In this study, the authors have projected for the first time the spatial patterns of hunting-induced mammal defaunation in the tropics and have identified areas where hunting impacts on mammal communities are expected to be high.

Predicted hotspots of hunting-induced defaunation are located in West and Central Africa, particularly Cameroon, and in Central America, NW South America and areas in SE Asia (Thailand, Malaysia and SW China). Predictions were based on a newly developed hunting regression model, based upon socio-economic drivers, such as human population density and hunters’ access points, and species traits, such as body size. The model relies on more than 3,200 abundance data estimates from the last 40 years and included more than 160 studies and hundreds of authors studying approximately 300 mammal species across the tropics.

These defaunation maps are expected to become an important input for large-scale biodiversity assessments, which have routinely ignored hunting impacts due to data paucity, and may inform species extinction risk assessments, conservation planning and progress evaluations to achieve global biodiversity targets.

Michigan House approves crane hunting resolution to address overpopulation


[No, the articles’ title doesn’t mean they think enough hunters will shoot themselves or each other in accidents during their newly proposed crane hunt that it will impact the out of control human population in the slightest bit. Unfortunately they meant that hunting canes them might keep their numbers down where humans want them.]

Michigan Rep. Jim Lower calls for Sandhill crane hunting

DETROIT – Michigan Rep. Jim Lower, of Cedar Lake, praised his colleagues in the Michigan House of Representatives for approving his resolution calling for a hunting season to address Sandhill crane overpopulation.

House Resolution 154 encouraged the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to add Sandhill cranes to the game species list and sought approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a hunting season in Michigan.

“I’m hopeful that the Natural Resources Commission will move forward with the idea and create a Sandhill crane hunt,” Lower said. “The establishment of a hunting season will help control the population and limit damage to local farms, where corn and wheat plants serve as a food source for the birds.”

Michigan is home to an increasing population of Sandhill cranes, with an estimated 23,082 reported in Michigan’s 2015 population survey, officials said.

Over the past 10 years, the population has grown an average of 9.4 percent annually, officials said.

While Michigan farmers are allowed to obtain nuisance permits to kill Sandhill cranes causing crop damage on their farms, Lower said the permits do not provide a solution to the overpopulation problem.

Lower said birds killed with nuisance permits are a wasted resource, as their meat cannot be harvested.

Sixteen states currently allow Sandhill crane hunting during certain seasons.

“A number of states already hunt Sandhill cranes, and their population continues to climb, along with reports of crop damage caused by cranes,” Lower said. “Still, hunting is the best tool we have to manage the population as a whole, and it’s time to utilize it in Michigan.”

Wolves, lynx and wild boar ‘should be reintroduced to British forests’


Lynx are to be reintroduced into the wild in Britain after a 1,300-year absence, under an ambitious ‘rewilding’ plan drawn up by a conservation charity

‘These are important keystone species which actually drive ecological processes’

Wild animals including wolves, lynx and wild boar could be reintroduced to British forests as part of a campaign to restore species hunted to extinction.

Plans put together by Rewilding Britain would see the animals roaming Scotland and other parts of the UK in an attempt to allow “native forests to regenerate, while giving the seas a chance to recover from industrial fishing”.

Supporters of the scheme argue that Britain should follow in the footsteps of other European countries, which are already home to large predators. They also maintain that the move would improve biodiversity.

Lynx, which eat deer, rabbits and hares among other animals but are not considered a risk to people, have not been seen in Britain for 1,300 years.

Kielder Forest considered as site for return of wild lynx
Campaigners want the lynx to be reintroduced to Scotland

Spokeswoman Susan Wright told BBC Scotland: “A lot of our important animals were hunted to extinction, species like the wolf, the wild boar, the lynx.

“These are important keystone species which actually drive ecological processes and we should be looking a lot more seriously at bringing these animals back.”

Lynx to be reintroduced into wild in Britain
Missing ‘lynx’ outfoxes police

But the proposals have drawn criticism from farmers’ leaders – who say that the countryside has already experienced problems after the reintroduction of other species, such as beavers and sea eagles.

They say that dams built by beavers have increased erosion and the risk of flooding in neighbouring fields, and that sea eagles, also known as white tailed eagles, kill lambs.

The Scottish government is now trying to decide whether the beavers – which were put in place in Argyll as part of a scientific study – should stay.

NFU Scotland said politicians and Scottish Natural Heritage should “show stronger leadership” on the issue of rewilding.

Vice President Andrew McCornick said: “Our countryside provides food, forestry, tourism, renewables, field sports and environmental goods.

“Recent history has taught us any species introduction, whether legal or illegal, can have an impact on the many benefits that the Scottish countryside currently delivers.”

The Scottish government said they intend to consider the issues carefully – but said there are currently “no plans” to reintroduce top predators such as lynx or wolves.

After Rampant Overhunting, Sea Otters Still Dying

Death of two endangered sea otters at Long Beach sparks inquiry

By Matt WintersThe Daily Astorian

June 4, 2015 7:35AM

A deceased sea otter washed ashore near Cranberry beach approach May 27. The marine mammals remain very rare in the vicinity of the mouth of the Columbia River after rampant overhunting between the late 1700s and early 1900s. This otter and another found earlier in May could have been delivered here by ocean currents, a federal biologist believes.

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A deceased sea otter washed ashore near Cranberry beach approach May 27. The marine mammals remain very rare in the vicinity of the mouth of the Columbia River after rampant overhunting between the late 1700s and early 1900s. This otter and another found earlier in May could have been delivered here by ocean currents, a federal biologist believes.
LONG BEACH, Wash. — Two dead northern sea otters have washed up on Long Beach in recent weeks, a surprise since the marine mammals — which are classified as endangered in Washington state — are not known to live here.

Biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the lead agency looking into the deaths, believe the otters likely picked up a deadly protozoa and may not have died here at all.

A mature female sea otter found on May 27 by a home-school group just north of Cranberry beach approach is frozen and now on its way to Madison, Wis., where it will be examined at the National Wildlife Health Center lab run by U.S. Geological Survey. They will test the organs and look for lesions on the brain.

It could be months before people here know exactly how or why the otter died.

Another otter washed ashore about a week or 10 days earlier closer to downtown Long Beach and was too decayed for scientific analysis.

“They very well could have floated from anywhere up north,” said Fish and Wildlife Services Biologist Deanna Lynch.

Though some people suspected recent high levels of a marine toxin called domoic acid off the Long Beach Peninsula could have contributed to the otters’ deaths, Lynch says it is far more likely to be protozoal encephalitis, a disease otters can pick up through their food.

Historical context

Most of the world’s sea otters live in coastal Alaska, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They have only recently started making a comeback in Washington state.

Here they eat sea urchins, clams, crabs and mussels. They must consume 25 percent of their body weight in food each day to maintain their high metabolism.

Sea otter pelts were once considered a pillar of the Lower Columbia River economy. Between 1700 and 1911, an estimated 1 million sea otters were trapped and killed for their fur along North America’s Pacific coast.

After being absent from the state for decades, 59 sea otters from Alaska were introduced to the Washington coast in 1969 and 1970. The sea otter was listed as a state endangered species in 1981, and has grown at an annual average rate of 8.2 percent from 1989 to 2004, according to WDFW surveys.

By 2010, they were believed to number about 1,000.

A survey from 2012 found the state’s largest concentration of otters was 562 around Destruction Island off the northern Olympia Peninsula. WDFW recovery plans predict that sea otters could be found once again in their historical southern habitat such as Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay.

The first modern Columbia sighting was on March 12, 2009, at North Head. Later in the same week, a sea otter was spotted at Cape Disappointment State Park. No official sightings were reported between then and the recent discoveries of deceased otters, though occasional appearances have been rumored.

The animals are protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, with steep fines and imprisonment for anyone convicted of harming or harassing them.

Because sea otters are so rare, confirmed sightings and strandings are important to report. If you see a sea otter, gather as much detail about the sighting as possible — its color, what it was doing, and where it was — then call 1-87-SEAOTTER to report your sighting.

If you encounter a stranded sea otter, do not approach it. It is illegal to handle sea otters and other marine mammals.

“The best advice we can give is stay clear and observe, don’t get near it no matter what,” Lynch said. “They can move faster than you think they can.”

‘Sea’ versus ‘river’

Many “sea otter” sightings in modern times are really just river otters taking dips in the ocean. Both species are members of the weasel family, a group that includes everything from minks to wolverines. But they are very different from each other. Several characteristics can help you identify which type of otter you are seeing:

• Adult sea otters are much bigger, reaching close to 5 or 6 feet long.

• They are stout animals with a thick multi-layered coat of fur.

• The fur on their bodies is usually dark brown while the fur on their heads can sometimes be lighter tan color.

• Both river and sea otters have webbed feet, but while river otters have distinct paws with claws and webbing, sea otters possess two flipper-like back feet in addition to their clawed and webbed forepaws.

• Sea otters rarely come to shore. They eat, sleep, mate and give birth in the ocean. They may drape themselves in kelp to keep from drifting while they sleep or gang up with other sea otters to float in large “rafts” on the ocean.

• They rarely come to land unless they are sick or the waves are simply too rough for them.

Who is Making More Waves?

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved


Blind anti-sea lion hatred or anti-cormorant animosity, like anti-wolf bigotry, seems born into in-bred, backwards communities, but it is a product of “nurture,” not nature and will (as with racism and sexism) surely fade away over time.


The question is, how many of these animals will be left after all the arrogant, narcissistic, speciesist, selfish blood lust is finally appeased?


And when it comes down to it, who is really making more waves—the sea lions for eating fish as they have for tens of millions of years (not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of MILLIONS) or the humans who are in the process, generally, of destroying the planet by changing the climate, polluting everything from the seas to the air we breathe, overfishing, overhunting, overpopulating and single-handedly bringing to an end the Age of Mammals?


Hats off to all the good folks with the Sea Lion Defense Brigade who stand up for sea life, despite local animosity, on a daily basis.


Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson


Tuesday Is Soylent Green Day Again

Last night I watched the timeless 1973 movie, Soylent Green, again and was again impressed (unfavorably) by how much the futuristic world that it depicted mirrored the world we’re headed for now. The temperature of the overcrowded New York of the future was a constant 90 degrees; the oceans were dying (presumably from overfishing and pollution, they hadn’t heard of acidification at the time); and the world was running out of food..

Spoiler Alert:

Set in 2022, the film opens with a slide show of earlier eras, back when the Earth was covered with forests and open fields, and there were only a few scattered settlements of people who travelled in horse-drawn wagons.

As the images pass quickly by, we see the first automobiles (tail pipes spewing toxic climate-changing carbon gases), followed by a massive blacktop parking lot jam packed with Model Ts. The pictures begin to flash almost more rapidly than we can focus, but we catch glimpses of factories with smokestacks billowing and crowds of people barely able to

move without trampling one another. (Come to think of it, what we are witnessing looks a lot like the inside of an average modern-day poultry barn, where chickens and turkeys are forced to live out their lives in intense confinement.)

The first scene of action takes place in a cramped little New York City apartment, the dwelling of the film’s two main characters, Thorn, a semi-corrupt detective, and his elderly room-mate and research partner, Sol, who is constantly going on about the good old days—a world that Thorn can’t possibly envision or relate to.

They are among the lucky few; most people sleep on the stairways or in the hallways or anywhere they can find shelter from the oppressive heat caused by an out of control greenhouse effect. We overhear a program on their worn out old TV which is an interview with the governor of New York, touting a new food product called “Soylent Green,” ostensibly made from the ocean’s plankton. (Everyone in that day and age knows that the land is used up, but they’re told the oceans can still provide for them).

Food in this depressing, human-ravaged world comes in the form of color-coded wafers, distributed under strict government supervision. Hordes of people stand in line for their ration of Soylent yellow or blue made from soy, or other high protein plants grown behind the fortress-walls of heavily guarded farms.

Signs remind the throng that “Tuesday is Soylent Green day.”

The multitudes are exceptionally unruly on Tuesday. Brimming with anticipation, they can’t wait to obtain a ration of the special new product. When the food distributors run out of soylent green, people start rioting and things get out of hand. “Scoops” (garbage trucks fitted with backhoe-like buckets on the front) are called in to scrape up the angry masses and haul them off…

By the end of the film, Thorn learns that the oceans are dead and the actual ingredients of Soylent Green are something a bit harder to stomach than plankton. In the final scene, a mortally-wounded Thorn is carried away on a stretcher as he desperately tries to tell bewildered onlookers, “Soylent Green is People!” “They’re making our food out of people. Next thing, they’ll be breeding us like cattle for food!”

Could it ever happen? Could the human race ever stoop so low? If the scenario seems too hard to swallow­, consider this: the conditions animals are forced to endure on today’s factory farms would have seemed unimaginable to people living a hundred years ago.

Humans: Overall, Not Favorably Impressive So Far

The human species is surely impressed with itself. Even the name they chose to classify themselves—Homo sapiens (Latin for “wise man”)—suggests it. Undoubtedly, there must have been some thought involved in the process of mushrooming from a simple tree-dwelling leaf eater in one small corner of the planet, to becoming the scariest big game hunter to rule the Earth.


(Carrying a torch)

                               “I’ll use this fire stick to chase that group of peacefully grazing, gregarious gazelles toward that cliff over there, and you guys try to spear as many as you can”


(Carrying a spear)

                                           “Good thinking, Ugh.”

Scenes like this played themselves out over and over as the species spread out and burgeoned to 7.2 billion. Now the technology of the killingest of creatures has advanced to the point that a single hunter, dressed in camouflage and drenched in another animal’s urine to con his victim as much as possible, can bring down the mightiest moose or tallest giraffe with the slightest squeeze of a trigger.

And still the species grows exponentially and continues to claim every last habitat.

It was impressive when man built the first rocket and took a walk on the moon. However, the rockets they build to blow their enemies sky-high (while irradiating the land and sea) more clearly typify the species’ overall achievements to date. But lately it seems that nuclear annihilation won’t get to see its day; anthropogenic climate change and a man-made extinction spasm are now higher on the agenda.

Perhaps the human, the only creature capable of destroying the Earth, should have been named Homo horribilus mactabilis (Latin for “horrible, dreadful, fearful; deadly, lethal man”).

What would really be impressive is if people were to drop their steak knives (and other weapons of mass destruction) en masse and make peace with this amazing planet and all of its inhabitants. The potential is there, but do they still have the will to learn?


Animals Hunted to Extinction

Read more: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/photos/13-animals-hunted-to-extinction/caribbean-monk-seal#ixzz3OjWGvZwT