"It was as dramatic as the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago," he said.
By understanding when, and to some extent how, ground sloths became extinct, scientists may be able to determine the biological potential of an area for restoration if human contact could be eliminated, such as in a national forest, a national park or an island, Steadman said.
"I'm not a Steven Spielberg type in that I don't believe that DNA would bring these things back," he said. "But in lieu of Jurassic Park, I think we can come up with sound ideas using the nearest living relatives. For example, we might want to consider taking living tree sloths and introducing them to protected forested areas on Cuba or Hispaniola."
While the largest of the prehistoric ground sloths grew to the size of a modern elephant and fed on bushes and the leaves of lower branches of trees, today's only surviving descendants are several small tree sloths whose range extends from southern Mexico to southern Brazil, he said.
Such an experiment might be similar to the one that involved restoring bison, once native to Florida, to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park near Gainesville, Steadman said. "With the work we're doing, especially on islands, to reconstruct which kinds of plants and animals -- particularly birds and mammals -- used to live there, we can open up possibilities for restoring parts of these islands to something near their original condition," he said.
The only reason the living species of sloths survive is that they live high up in trees, where their green-algae-colored fur camouflages them, Steadman said. "God save the sloth that comes down to the ground because usually somebody is there to kill it," he said.
For the study, Steadman sent samples from the large collection of ground sloth skeletons at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, to Paul Martin, a professor emeritus of g
Source:University of Florida