Late Holocene spread of pastoralism coincides with endemic megafaunal extinction on Madagascar

Sean W. Hixon, Kristina G. Douglass, Brooke E. Crowley, Lucien Marie Aimé Rakotozafy, Geoffrey Clark, Atholl Anderson, Simon Haberle, Jean Freddy Ranaivoarisoa, Michael Buckley, Salomon Fidiarisoa, Balzac Mbola, Douglas J. Kennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recently expanded estimates for when humans arrived on Madagascar (up to approximately 10 000 years ago) highlight questions about the causes of the island's relatively late megafaunal extinctions (approximately 2000–500 years ago). Introduced domesticated animals could have contributed to extinctions, but the arrival times and past diets of exotic animals are poorly known. To conduct the first explicit test of the potential for competition between introduced livestock and extinct endemic megafauna in southern and western Madagascar, we generated new radiocarbon and stable carbon and nitrogen isotope data from the bone collagen of introduced ungulates (zebu cattle, ovicaprids and bushpigs, n = 66) and endemic megafauna (pygmy hippopotamuses, giant tortoises and elephant birds, n = 68), and combined these data with existing data from endemic megafauna (n = 282, including giant lemurs). Radiocarbon dates confirm that introduced and endemic herbivores briefly overlapped chronologically in this region between 1000 and 800 calibrated years before present (cal BP). Moreover, stable isotope data suggest that goats, tortoises and hippos had broadly similar diets or exploited similar habitats. These data support the potential for both direct and indirect forms of competition between introduced and endemic herbivores. We argue that competition with introduced herbivores, mediated by opportunistic hunting by humans and exacerbated by environmental change, contributed to the late extinction of endemic megafauna on Madagascar.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20211204
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1955
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2021


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