Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Published in Quaternary Science Reviews 211 (2019), pp 1–16.

doi 10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.02.031


Copyright © 2019 Elsevier Ltd. Used by permission.


The transition of hominins to a largely meat-based diet ~1.8 million years ago led to the exploitation of other mammals for food and resources. As hominins, particularly archaic and modern humans, became increasingly abundant and dispersed across the globe, a temporally and spatially transgressive extinction of large-bodied mammals followed; the degree of selectivity was unprecedented in the Cenozoic fossil record. Today, most remaining large-bodied mammal species are confined to Africa, where they coevolved with hominins. Here, using a comprehensive global dataset of mammal distribution, life history and ecology, we examine the consequences of “body size downgrading” of mammals over the late Quaternary on fundamental macroecological patterns. Specifically, we examine changes in species diversity, global and continental body size distributions, allometric scaling of geographic range size with body mass, and the scaling of maximum body size with area. Moreover, we project these patterns toward a potential future scenario in which all mammals currently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN's Red List are extirpated. Our analysis demonstrates that anthropogenic impact on earth systems predates the terminal Pleistocene and has grown as populations increased and humans have become more widespread. Moreover, owing to the disproportionate influence on ecosystem structure and function of megafauna, past and present body size downgrading has reshaped Earth's biosphere. Thus, macroecological studies based only on modern species yield distorted results, which are not representative of the patterns present for most of mammal evolution. Our review supports the concept of benchmarking the “Anthropocene” with the earliest activities of Homo sapiens.