by Staff Writers
Paris, France (AFP) Aug 11, 2013
The mass extinction of large animals in the Pleistocene era caused today's dearth of soil nutrients, scientists said Sunday, and warned of further damage if modern giants like the elephant disappear.
The Pleistocene epoch, which dated from about 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, saw large animals dubbed megafauna take over domination of the planet from extinct dinosaurs, only to die out en masse themselves.
During their peak, much of the world resembled a modern-day African savannah.
South America, for example, was teeming with five-tonne ground sloths, armadillo-like glyptodonts the size of a small car, and herds of elephant-like cuvieronius and stegomastodonts.
These megafauna, animals weighing more than 44 kilograms (97 pounds), played a key role in fertilising soil far away from the areas near rivers where they fed -- ploughing the nutrients they consumed back into circulation through their dung or their decomposing bodies when they died.
Large animals ate much more and travelled further than small ones, and were mainly responsible for long-distance fertilisation, said a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
"Big animals are like the nutrient arteries of the planet and if they go extinct it is like severing these arteries," co-author Chris Doughty of the University of Oxford's Environment Change Institute told AFP.
"Because most of these animals went extinct the world has many more nutrient poor regions than it would have had."
Using mathematical models, researchers estimated the megafauna extinction reduced the dispersal of key plant nutrient phosphorus in the Amazon basin by 98 percent, "with similar, though less extreme, decreases in all continents outside of Africa", the only continent where modern humans co-evolved with megafauna.
Instead, the nutrients became concentrated near floodplains and other fertile areas.
The model used in the study will allow scientists to predict the effect of further extinctions, a fate the team said was "fast approaching many of the large animals that remain" today, mainly in Africa and Asia.
Farming Today - Suppliers and Technology
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2012 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement|