12:13 GMT +321 September 2019
Listen Live
    Mammoth model at the Royal BC Museum

    Bad Weather Killed Off Woolly Mammoths, Saber-Toothed Cats, New Study Claims

    © Photo: Flying Puffin
    Environment
    Get short URL
    134
    Subscribe

    A wetter climate was responsible for the extinction of woolly mammoths, saber-toothed cats and other large animals at the end of the last Ice Age, according to a new study.

    At the end of the most recent Ice Age, which ended around 11,700 years ago, woolly mammoths and many other large mammals and birds went extinct. However, scientists haven't established a consensus as to why.

    Theories explaining the mass extinctions include a large meteorite hitting Earth, similar to that which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, or human overhunting.

    According to a new study, the answer may be found in the increased rainfall and consequently wetter environment these animals faced just before their sudden extinction.

    Researchers at the University of Adelaide examined the levels of nitrogen isotopes in the bones of large animals which roamed the Earth during the last Ice Age, in order to assess the moisture levels in their environment. 

    They found major increases in environmental moisture across many parts of the world, which turned grasslands into peatlands and bogs just before the extinction occurred. 

    "We didn't expect to find such clear signals of moisture increases occurring so widely across all of Europe, Siberia and the Americas," Professor Alan Cooper, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature, Ecology and Evolution, said.

    Barbourofelis loveorum in the Florida Museum of Natural History Fossil Hall at the University of Florida
    Barbourofelis loveorum in the Florida Museum of Natural History Fossil Hall at the University of Florida
    "The timing varied between regions, but matches the collapse of glaciers and permafrost and occurs just before most species went extinct."

    "The idea of moisture-driven extinctions is really exciting because it can also explain why Africa is so different, with a much lower rate of megafaunal extinctions and many species surviving to this day," Professor Cooper said in a press release

    "Africa's position across the equator means that grassland zones have always surrounded the central monsoon region. The stable grasslands are what has allowed large herbivores to persist — rather than any special wariness of hunters learned from humans evolving there."

    Woolly mammoths, long-horned bison, saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths and huge teratorn birds with 7m wingspans were some of the large animals which perished at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, which spanned from 2.58 million to 11,700 years ago.

    The Pleistocene spans the period of the Earth's most recent glaciation cycles, during which glaciers have covered the Earth's temperate zones during cool weather periods and retreated during warmer interglacial periods.

    The last glacial period finished with the end of the Pleistocene, so the Earth is currently in an interglacial period. Since the beginning of the last Ice Age around 2.58 million years ago, these ice sheets have advanced and retreated, initially over a 40,000 year time scale and more recently over a 100,000 year cycle. 

    Related:

    Russian Paleontologists Discover Unique Mammoth Remains
    Russian and Korean Scientists Started Mammoth Cloning
    37,000-Year-Old Baby Mammoth Goes on Display in Russian Museum
    Arctic Expedition Finds Woolly Mammoth Remains Ripe for Cloning
    Tags:
    Science, rainfall, extinction, mammoth, research, animals
    Community standardsDiscussion
    Comment via FacebookComment via Sputnik