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SciCafe: End of the Megafauna

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Two extinct species in battle

Until a few thousand years ago, animals that could have been featured in a sci-fi thriller—gorilla-sized lemurs, 500-pound birds, and crocodiles that weighed a ton or more—roamed the Earth. These great beasts, or “megafauna,” lived on every habitable continent. Today, almost all of them are gone. What caused the disappearance of these prehistoric behemoths? Mammalogist Ross D. E. MacPhee, curator in the Department of Mammalogy, searches for answers to this mystery of giants by examining the leading extinction theories and weighs the evidence in his new book. 

About the Speaker

Ross MacPhee headshot
Ross MacPhee’s leading interests are paleobiogeography, extinction, and cranial developmental cranial morphology. With regard to paleobiogeography, he has worked on questions related to the mammalian and general vertebrate diversity of the West Indies, Madagascar, and, most recently, Antarctica, across time intervals from late Mesozoic to late Neogene. MacPhee also studies recent mammalian extinctions, concentrating on the loss of megafaunal species during the end-Pleistocene in North America and northern Asia. His research and that of his colleagues seeks to clarify the causal patterns behind these losses, most recently by studying population dynamics of fossil species using ancient DNA methods. The purpose of cranial developmental morphology is to explore the ontogenetic background of various character states expressed in adult forms. Most of his work involves interpretation of late fetal and adult stages of placentals, with increasing emphasis on micro-CT scanning as an aid to visualization.

Learn More 

  • Meet Ross MacPhee and learn more about his Museum research
  • Watch last year’s Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate about de-extinction

Read More

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