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Humans Were the Only Reason The Great Auks Went Extinct, Finds Study

Greak auks were not at risk of extinction prior to human invasion found the report.

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Updated:November 28, 2019, 1:33 PM IST
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Humans Were the Only Reason The Great Auks Went Extinct, Finds Study
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons.

The last Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia is now extinct.

Over years, human exploitation has played a major role in the extinction of a number of species across the world. From the Barbary lion in the Middle East to the Quagga in Africa, numerous flora and fauna species have faced extinction due to human exploitation. Now, a new study offers great insight towards the extinction of the great auk, a flightless alcid that became extinct in the mid-19th century.

According to the findings, intense hunting by humans could have led to the rapid decline and subsequent extinction of the flightless birds. The study, which was first published on eLife and reported in Phys.org elaborated on how even species that exist in large numbers can be vulnerable to human exploitation.

Great auks were once distributed across the North Atlantic, with the islands of Newfoundland, coasts of Iceland, Scotland and Scandinavia having them in abundance. The birds were poached for meat and eggs since prehistoric times, but their culling intensified in 1500AD by European seamen who started visiting the Newfoundland fishing grounds. Furthermore, the demand for their feathers in the 1700s just acted as a catalyst to their decline, the report revealed.

Speaking about the same, lead author Jessica Thomas, from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark also shared her viewpoint. She added that despite well-documented history of exploitation since 16th century, one cannot be sure if hunting alone was responsible for the extinction of the species or whether some environmental changes were responsible.

Thomas and her team carried out a series of analyses on genetic data available, along with other tests to find out more about the wiping out of the species. They used mitochondrial genome sequencing to reconstruct the birds' population structure and dynamics. It was then that they came to the conclusion that greak auks were not at risk of extinction prior to human invasion, the report cited senior author Thomas Gilbert as saying.

However, Gilbert added that the study did not provide enough concrete proof to suggest that humans alone were responsible. It rather pointed towards the fact that human hunting pressure was likely to have caused the extinction even if the birds were not already under threat of dying out.

“The findings help reveal how industrial-scale commercial exploitation of natural resources have the potential to drive an abundant, wide-ranging and genetically diverse species to extinction within a short period of time," the report quoted Gary Carvalho, another study author, as saying.

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