1

I know megafauna is not a very common word, while fauna is more so. Fauna is singular, defined as a group of animals. ex. "The African fauna is diverse".

Megafauna is the word defining all animals with body mass larger than a certain threshold (45kg, 100kg, etc), so in theory is still a group. Following this logic, megafauna should be singular.

However in many prominent scientific publications, for example some articles in Science and Nature, you find megafauna used in the plural form. ex. "Megafauna are a major draw for tourists" or "megafauna re imperiled".

Checking online some dictionaries define it as plural and singular. Are these scientists grammatically "wrong" by using megafauna as a plural noun, or are they simply setting the standard for how a word should be used since language evolves and they are the most expert on the subject?

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No, they are not wrong. They are simply using collective nouns in a way that you are unfamiliar with. This is called notional concord, or sometimes notional agreement. This happens all the time in English. That makes this question a stealth duplicate of “Are collective nouns always plural, or are certain ones singular?”

The OED says of megafauna that it can take plural concord as a collective noun:

  1. Chiefly Palaeontology. With plural concord: large vertebrates, esp. the larger mammals; spec. those of a particular epoch or region. Also (with singular concord): a group, class, community, or list of such animals. Cf. microfauna n. 1.

  2. Ecology. = macrofauna n.

This is no surprise.

The word fauna is a collective noun, which means it can take plural verbs but does not require them. Here are examples from Google Books:

This works just like uncountably many other collective nouns that are singular in form yet often plural in use: group, team, community, couple, pair, council, club, company, troop, crowd, gang, et cetera ad infinitum.

  • So are you saying that 'megafauna' is just like 'fauna' with respect to number, or are there differences? – Mitch Aug 26 '18 at 18:05
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    @Mitch Yes, I am. I haven't found any differences. – tchrist Aug 26 '18 at 18:10
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Evidence from Google Books suggests that the term “megafauna” has been used both both in the singular and the plural forms at least since the ‘60s

Megafauna

n. pl. megafauna or megafaunas:

Large or relatively large animals of a particular region, period, or habitat: Pleistocene megafauna; crabs and other aquatic megafauna.

Megafauna:

(mass noun) The large mammals of a particular region, habitat, or geological period.

From Mass Extinction :

Some Australian researches maintain that megafauna are absent in Australian fossil sites dated younger than ~46 ka, the suggested date of colonization by humans.

From Biodiversity:

The megafauna is still well represented, even if 50 varieties disappeared around 40 000 years ago. Africa is the continent that currently has the most diversified fauna of large herbivores, including the elephant, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, etc. – groups that were plentiful on other continents before the Pleistocene extinctions.

  • so fauna also exists as a plural? What would be its purpose if it already implies a group? – Herman Toothrot Aug 27 '18 at 7:32

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