The role of geomagnetic field intensity in late Quaternary evolution of humans and large mammals
It has long been speculated that biological evolution was influenced by ultra-violet radiation (UVR) reaching the Earth's surface, despite imprecise knowledge of the timing of both UVR flux and evolutionary events. The past strength of Earth's dipole field provides a proxy for UVR flux because of its role in maintaining stratospheric ozone. The timing of Quaternary evolutionary events has become better constrained by fossil finds, improved radiometric dating, use of dung fungi as proxies for herbivore populations, and improved ages for nodes in human phylogeny from human mitochrondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosomes. The demise of Neanderthals at ~41 ka can now be closely tied to the intensity minimum associated with the Laschamp magnetic excursion, and the survival of anatomically modern humans (AMHs) can be attributed to differences in the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) that has a key role in the evolutionary response to UVR flux. Fossil occurrences and dung-fungal proxies in Australia indicate that episodes of Late Quaternary extinction (LQE) of mammalian megafauna occurred close to the Laschamp and Blake magnetic excursions. Fossil and dung fungal evidence for the age of the LQE in North America (and Europe) coincide with a prominent decline in geomagnetic field intensity at ~13 ka. Over the last ~200 kyr, phylogeny based on mtDNA and Y-chromosomes in modern humans yield nodes and bifurcations in evolution corresponding to geomagnetic intensity minima which supports the proposition that UVR reaching Earth's surface influenced mammalian evolution with the loci of extinction controlled by the geometry of stratospheric ozone depletion.