Mammoths lived in Siberia just 3,900 years ago

Thousands of years ago, huge woolly mammoths roamed the Mammoth Steppe, a cool but thriving Arctic ecosystem that was once the largest biome on Earth. These megafauna fed on abundant vegetation.

Woolly mammoths thrived there – until they disappeared. According to some scientists, the appearance of humans in the Arctic coincided with the extinction of the woolly mammoth.

Now scientists have a new hypothesis that allows to remove the blame for the extinction of this ancient animal from humans. It also offers a new chronology of the extinction of the woolly mammoth.

The results of the study were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The dispute over what caused the general extinction of Arctic megafauna “has been debated for more than a hundred years,” said lead author of the study, Yucheng Wang, a researcher at the University of Cambridge. Alleged causes have ranged from the effects of human activity to climate change.

Wang’s study points to the latter, suggesting that woolly mammoths coexisted with humans for about 2,000 years before the animals were finally wiped out by climate change.

The alleged causes ranged from human deaths to climate change.

Wang’s study points to the latter, suggesting that woolly mammoths coexisted with humans for about 2,000 years before the animals were finally undermined by climate change.

How the discovery was made – Scientists relied on DNA from fossils to study Arctic megafauna, but with limited fossil samples, it is difficult to draw accurate conclusions about when the woolly mammoths disappeared and whether humans were the exact cause of their demise.

So Wang and his colleagues turned to a relatively new method: To decide what happened to the mammoths, they studied the environmental DNA or “eDNA” of plants and animals found in what was once the Mammoth Steppe.

Wang describes eDNA as DNA molecules preserved in environmental samples such as soil, water, air and other biological samples. For example, animals transmit eDNA through urine, feces, bone fragments, hair and skin cells.

The study revealed four key findings:

1. the woolly mammoth still lived 3,900 years ago in Siberia.

Previously, researchers believed that woolly mammoths went extinct about 10,000 years ago.

2. The mammoth probably survived longer than we expect because of plant resilience.

Research suggests that the unique vegetation of the Mammoth Steppe in northern Central Siberia has existed thousands of years longer than expected, which helped keep the mammoth alive.

3. mammoths “encountered and coexisted with humans” for about 2,000 years.

Thus, there can be no question that “human hunting” led to the extinction of mammoths several centuries after first human contact, as some scientists have previously suggested.

4. Instead, the model suggests that climate change and vegetation change led to the deterioration of the Mammoth steppe ecosystem.

These were “major factors” in the mammoth extinction.

The study suggests that warming temperatures after the Last Glacial Maximum – when glacial thickness was greatest – caused glacial melt, leading to more marsh plants in the Mammoth Steppe. Mammoths had a harder time accessing natural resources on the wetter, softer land compared to the harder tundra of the Mammoth Steppe.

Wang says these results clearly take the blame away from humans. “We found that the distribution of people over time is virtually unrelated to the presence of megafauna,” he says.

The new study clarifies the chronology of the mammoth’s disappearance and the reasons that may have led to its extinction.

Scientists also found that the mammoth steppe contained more balanced vegetation rather than being dominated by grass, suggesting that ancient herbivores such as woolly mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses had a more diverse diet than assumed.

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