Although humans and woolly mammoths co-existed for millennia, the shaggy giants disappeared from the globe between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago, and scientists couldn't explain until recently exactly how the Flinstonian behemoths went extinct.
In a paper published June 12 in the journal Nature Communications, UCLA researchers and colleagues reveal that not long after the last ice age, the last woolly mammoths succumbed to a lethal combination of climate warming, encroaching humans and habitat change the same threats facing many species today.
"We were interested to know what happened to this species during the climate warming at the end of the last ice age because we were looking for insights into what might happen today due to human-induced climate change," said Glen MacDonald, director of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES). "The answer to why woolly mammoths died off sounds a lot like what we expect with future climate warming."
MacDonald, a professor of geography and of ecology and evolutionary biology, worked with UCLA IoES scientists Robert Wayne and Blaire Van Valkenburgh, UCLA geographer Konstantine Kremenetski, and researchers from UC Santa Cruz, the Russian Academy of Science and the University of Hawaii Manoa.
Their work shows that although hunting by people may have contributed to the demise of woolly mammoths, contact with humans isn't the only reason this furry branch of the Elephantidae family went extinct. By creating the most complete maps to date of all the changes happening thousands of years ago, the researchers showed that the extinction didn't line up with any single change but with the combination of several new pressures on woolly mammoths.
When the last ice age ended about 15,000 years ago, woolly mammoths were on the rise. Warming melted glaciers, but the still-chilly temperatures were downright comfy for such furry animals and kept plant life in just the rig
|Contact: Alison Hewitt|
University of California - Los Angeles