According to a recent study which appeared in the journal Science the woolly mammoth was not killed by human hunters, but by climate changes. The woolly mammoth went extinct nearly 11.000 years ago along with other megafauna such as short-faced bears and cave lions.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia and the University of New South Wales have discovered that the abrupt climate changes which occurred in the late Pleistocene era are the main reason why the woolly mammoth disappeared.
For the study scientists have compared information about the extinction of megafauna species and records of drastic climate events and discovered a strong link between warming events and the extinction of the large animals. Co-author of the study Alan Cooper from the University of Adelaide explained that combining the two records they managed to accurately align the fossils against climate and thus arranged data about radiocarbon dating and climate on the same scale. The high-resolution view which the researchers obtained using this approach revealed the strong connection between woolly mammoth extinction and warming events, Cooper added.
The lead author of the study Professor Chris Turney of the University of New South Wales remarked:
The abrupt warming of the climate caused massive changes to the environment that set the extinction events in motion, but the rise of humans applied the coup de grâce to a population that was already under stress.”
So the scientists acknowledged that the human activity played a part in the extinction process, but the contribution was not essential. Human society and hunters disrupted the environment of the woolly mammoth and prevented the animals from migrating to new areas.
However interstadials changed the living conditions of the animal dramatically by affecting vegetation and rainfall patterns. Interstadials are short periods of warm weather which often occurred in that period. Such periods saw an increase in temperature of between 4 and 16˚C in only a few decades. Afterwards the planet remained warm for thousands of years.
According to the study megafauna such as the woolly mammoth find it hard to adapt to such hot conditions most likely because of the way in which interstadials affected their habitat and their prey.
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