Late Quaternary Bison diminution on the Great Plains of North America: evaluating the role of human hunting versus climate change

Matthew E. Hill, Matthew G. Hill, Christopher C. Widga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Body size changes of Bison and mortality age structure data document the effects of climate-driven environmental change and human hunting pressure on large mammals in North America. Morphometric and mortality data are drawn from 58 archaeological and 9 paleontological localities dating between 37,000 and 250 calBP. Proxy information on body size is based on measurements recorded on 901 adult calcanei (os calcis) and 1026 humeri. In addition, published mortality profiles from 24 archaeological faunal assemblages spanning the last 14,000 years were used to approximate the age structure of bison populations. These results suggest that dramatic diminution in bison body size occurred in several short bursts, rather than a continuous gradual decline. These periods of rapid size reduction correlate with times of ecological reorganization, when aridity-driven changes in grasslands decreased forage quality and availability. Mortality age data indicate that the decrease in body size occurred in a context where there was no evidence for a progressively severe juvenile bias in bison populations. Overall, it appears that the changes in body size were a reaction to environmental conditions rather than the result of human predation pressure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1752-1771
Number of pages20
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number17-18
StatePublished - Sep 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology

Cite this