Great Extirpations

Between 10,000 and 4,000 years ago, multiple, intertwining stressors: warming climate, habitat changes, and human pressure—familiar threats for many species today—led to the extinction of the woolly mammoth.

Some 45,000 years ago, the mighty woolly mammoths thundered across Beringia, a region that included parts of present-day Siberia, Alaska, and the Yukon, as well as the land that bridged what is now the Bering Strait. On the fertile steppes they grazed on nutritious grasses and willows. Yet by 4,000 years ago they had vanished, the cause of their demise a contentious topic of debate.

To examine the factors that may have been fatal for mammoths, geographer and paleoecologist Glen M. MacDonald of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues gathered unprecedented amounts of radiocarbon and mitochondrial-DNA data on mammoth fossils; evidence of ancient humans and of prehistoric temperatures; and fossilized remains of primeval peatlands and forests. Overlaying that data on a series of maps of Beringia, the team visualized how mammoth and human populations grew, shrank, and relocated in relation to changing environmental conditions.

To read the full article by Ashley Braun click here.