Prehistoric bird extinctions and human hunting

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Holocene fossils document the extinction of hundreds of bird species on Pacific islands during prehistoric human occupation. Human hunting is implicated in these extinctions, but the impact of hunting is difficult to disentangle from the effects of other changes induced by humans, including habitat destruction and the introduction of other mammalian predators. Here, we use data from bones collected at a natural sand dune site and associated archaeological middens in New Zealand to show that, having controlled for differences in body mass and family membership (and hence for variation in life-history traits related to population growth rate), birds that were more intensively hunted by prehistoric humans had a higher probability of extinction. This result cannot be attributed to preservation biases and provides clear evidence that selective hunting contributed significantly to prehistoric bird extinctions at this site.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)517-521
Number of pages5
JournalRoyal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Issue number1490
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2002


  • flightlessness, hunting, extinction, body size, habitat loss, New Zealand