The impact of European colonization on the late-Holocene non-volant mammals of Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

Matthew McDowell, Alexander Baynes, Graham Medlin, Gavin Prideaux

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    15 Citations (Scopus)


    Over the last 200 years Australia has suffered the greatest rate of mammal species extinction of any continent. This demands extensive biodiversity research, but unfortunately has been hampered by poor documentation of Australia's native species at the time of European colonization. Late-Holocene fossil mammal assemblages preserved in caves, rockshelters and surface lag deposits from deflated sand dunes can provide a more complete understanding of pre-European ecological conditions than can be developed from our knowledge of present biodiversity. In South Australia, few regions have experienced greater landscape modification and biodiversity loss than Yorke Peninsula. We investigate the composition, richness, evenness and age of two owl accumulations from southeastern and southwestern Yorke Peninsula and contrast them with a surface lag deposit assemblage probably accumulated by humans. We then examine the pre-European biogeography of the fauna recovered. The three assemblages have similar species richness, but differ dramatically in composition and evenness. The biases imposed by differing accumulation agents can explain compositional differences between owl and human assemblages, but not the differences between the respective owl accumulations. We argue that key substrate differences - one area is dominated by sand and the other by calcrete - have favoured distinct vegetation communities that fostered distinctly different mammal assemblages from which raptors accumulated prey. The ecological requirements of the extant mammals appear to be reflected in the fossil assemblages, providing support for the application of uniformitarian principles and confidence in the relevance of late-Holocene fossil assemblages to modern conservation and natural resource management.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1441-1450
    Number of pages10
    JournalThe Holocene
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


    • Australia
    • biogeography
    • climate change
    • European impact
    • extinction
    • late Holocene
    • palaeoecology
    • small mammal


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