The rise of the human population may have doomed Madagascar’s enormous creatures


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The rise of the human population may have doomed Madagascar’s enormous creatures

Lemurs the size of humans and enormous “elephant birds” were common in Madagascar 2,000 years ago. They had all but vanished a thousand years later. According to a recent study, two small groups of humans merged and took control of the island of Madagascar at the same time as this great catastrophe.

According to Laurie Godfrey, a paleontologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the discovery is “interesting.” The findings, according to her, offer genetic evidence in favor of the hypothesis that an increasing human population and a transition to agricultural lifestyles caused the extinction of these enormous creatures.

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The Madagascar Genetic and Ethnolinguistic project was established in 2007 by Jean-Aimé Rakotoarisoa, an archaeologist at the University of Antananarivo, and a multidisciplinary team of researchers to investigate the long-debated issue of the ancestry of the Malagasy, the island’s largest native ethnic group. The Malagasy language is comparable to Austronesian languages spoken 7000 kilometers across the Indian Ocean, despite Madagascar being only 425 kilometers off the east coast of Africa. According to Rakotoarisoa, there has long been “a dispute over when, who, and how people got to Madagascar” and how they affected the mass extinction.

On the island, the team visited 257 settlements between 2007 and 2014. They gathered saliva samples as well as information related to music, language, and other social sciences. Researchers came to the conclusion in 2017 that the Bantu-speaking people of eastern Africa and the Austronesian-speaking people of southern Borneo in southeast Asia are the present Malagasy population’s most distant relatives.

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In the recent study, the researchers utilized a computer program to calculate Malagasy ancestry and predict how it changed over generations after genetically analyzing saliva.

They discovered that an ancient Asian population of just a few thousand people which stopped mingling with other tribes roughly 2000 years ago, gave rise to the comtemporary Malagasy population.

It is unclear precisely when the Asian population arrived in Madagascar. However, 1000 years ago, this little group had reached the island. The population started to increase just at the peak of the megafaunal mass extinctions about 1000 years ago when it started to mix with a comparable-sized African population in Madagascar, the researchers write in today’s issue of Current Biology.

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Denis Pierron, an evolutionary geneticist at Paul Sabatier University and a co-author of the study, notes that other studies have discovered that the way of life of the inhabitants of Madagascar altered concurrently with the country’s population explosion. In the past, people have coexisted with animals and hunted and foraged in small groups. Archaeological evidence reveals that people were now erecting substantial towns, cultivating rice, and grazing livestock on the area.

The authors contend that a combination of a hotter and drier environment, and population growth most likely led to the extinction of the enormous animals. Godfrey agrees that the timing is accurate, plus or minus 100 years, but she thinks the impact of the changing environment was less significant.

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The evolutionary geneticist at Yale University, Diyendo Massilani, notes that there are limitations to using present-day data to draw conclusions about the past, although praising the quality of the study. He contends that if archaeologists found and examined ancient DNA from the buried remains of Madagascar’s previous residents, it could assist clarification when earlier populations interacted and expanded.

It is critical to comprehend human involvement in the extinction of the Madagascar lemur today, according to Godfrey, especially given the dangers facing contemporary giants like elephants and rhinoceroses. Researchers  need to understand what triggers significant changes so we can protect ourselves from a potentially disastrous future for the Earth.

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Sources

https://www.science.org/content/article/human-population-boom-may-have-doomed-madagascar-s-giant-animals

https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(22)01602-5


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