An extremely low-density human population exterminated New Zealand moa
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New Zealand moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes) are the only late Quaternary megafauna whose extinction was clearly caused by humans. New Zealand offers the best opportunity to estimate the number of people involved in a megafaunal extinction event because, uniquely, both the Polynesian settlement of New Zealand and moa extinction are recent enough to be dated with a high degree of precision. In addition, the founding human population can be estimated from genetic evidence. Here we show that the Polynesian population of New Zealand would not have exceeded 2,000 individuals before extinction of moa populations in the habitable areas of the eastern South Island. During a brief (<150 years) period and at population densities that never exceeded ~0.01 km-2, Polynesians exterminated viable populations of moa by hunting and removal of habitat. High human population densities are not required in models of megafaunal extinction.
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