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Extinction Implications of a Chenopod Browse Diet for a Giant Pleistocene Kangaroo

Gavin J. Prideaux, Linda K. Ayliffe, Larisa R. G. DeSantis, Blaine W. Schubert, Peter F. Murray, Michael K. Gagan, Thure E. Cerling and Alan Walker
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Vol. 106, No. 28 (Jul. 14, 2009), pp. 11646-11650
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40484004
Page Count: 5
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Extinction Implications of a Chenopod Browse Diet for a Giant Pleistocene Kangaroo
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Abstract

Kangaroos are the world's most diverse group of herbivorous marsupials. Following late-Miocene intensification of aridity and seasonally, they radiated across Australia, becoming the continent's ecological equivalents of the artiodactyl ungulates elsewhere. Their diversity peaked during the Pleistocene, but by approximately 45,000 years ago, 90% of larger kangaroos were extinct, along with a range of other giant species. Resolving whether climate change or human arrival was the principal extinction cause remains highly contentious. Here we combine craniodental morphology, stable-isotopic, and dental microwear data to reveal that the largest-ever kangaroo, Procoptodon goliah, was a chenopod browse specialist, which may have had a preference for Atriplex (saltbushes), one of a few dicots using the C₄ photosynthetic pathway. Furthermore, oxygen isotope signatures of P. goliah tooth enamel show that it drank more in low-rainfall areas than its grazing contemporaries, similar to modern saltbush feeders. Saltbushes and chenopod shrublands in general are poorly flammable, so landscape burning by humans is unlikely to have caused a reduction in fodder driving the species to extinction. Aridity is discounted as a primary cause because P. goliah evolved in response to increased aridity and disappeared during an interval wetter than many it survived earlier. Hunting by humans, who were also bound to water, may have been a more decisive factor in the extinction of this giant marsupial.

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