Led by Monash University in Victoria, Australia and the University of Colorado Boulder, the team used information from a sediment core drilled in the Indian Ocean off the coast of southwest Australia to help reconstruct past climate and ecosystems on the continent. The core contains chronological layers of material blown and washed into the ocean, including dust, pollen, ash and spores from a fungus called Sporormiella that thrived on the dung of plant-eating mammals, said CU Boulder Professor Gifford Miller.
Miller, who participated in the study led by Sander van der Kaars of Monash University, said the sediment core allowed scientists to look back in time, in this case more than 150,000 years, spanning Earth's last full glacial cycle. Fungal spores from plant-eating mammal dung were abundant in the sediment core layers from 150,000 years ago to about 45,000 years ago, when they went into a nosedive, said Miller, a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences.
"The abundance of these spores is good evidence for a lot of large mammals on the southwestern Australian landscape up until about 45,000 years ago," he said. "Then, in a window of time lasting just a few thousand years, the megafauna population collapsed."