Woolly Mammoths Probably Became Extinct Because of Wildflowers

Woolly Mammoths Probably Became Extinct Because of Wildflowers

New research suggests that woolly mammoths and other animals that lived during the ice age probably ate high-protein wildflowers which were named forbs, and due to the plants dying out, it helped cause the mammoths to become extinct. Instead from existing in an uninteresting piece of grassland, the beasts instead lived in a vivid and colorful Arctic landscape which was covered in assorted vegetation and flowering plant life, states the research.

It definitely talks about a very different type of Arctic that was in existence over thousands of years ago, stated one of the study’s authors, Joseph Craine. He works as an ecosystem ecologist at Kansas State University and explained how the research made the scientists rethink how the foliage looked and how the animals of that time were able to flourish on the landscape. The prehistoric ecosystem research was printed up in the journal Nature.

In the past, researchers had thought that the vast Arctic was at one time brown grassland that swarmed with woolly mammoths, bison and rhinos. However, through restorations of primordial Arctic vegetation that was found on petrified pollen in frozen dirt. Because grass tends to produce much more pollen than most other plants, what was tested ended up showing a prejudiced picture of what the landscape probably looked like. So in order to learn about the ancient landscape in a better way, scientists examined the plant chromosomal material which was discovered in over 240 samples of permafrost from over regions of Alaska, Northern Europe and Siberia which went back as far as 50,000 years ago.

They also tested DNA which was discovered in the intestine contents of woolly mammoths, horses, bison and rhinos which were located in museums all over the world. The analysis ended up showing that the Arctic of that time had a diverse landscape which was covered in grass, wildflowers and other types of vegetation. The big hairy beasts which wandered over the countryside made sure to took advantage of that abundance. The grazers complemented their grassy diet with hearty helpings of forbs. That is what the stomach content examination discovered.

These forbs were very high in protein and also other kinds of nutrients, which might have aided the animals to gain weight and reproduce. However between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, the forbs started to decline. It is not known exactly why but the climate started to change during this time period. The ice age was basically over, and wetter, hotter weather was taking over. That climate was allowing trees and shrubs to grow and so these started to outgrow the forbs and end up killing them by putting them in the shade. With the disappearance of such plants, it most likely hastened the extinction of the woolly mammoth. If a huge change in the climate disturbed one link in the chain, like exhausting the forbs, that could have caused the entire system to break down.

Such discoveries have also brought up questions about modern animals such as the bison, stated Craine. If the prehistoric beasts ate forbs, it is very possible such plants would possibly play a role in the modern bison’s diet as well, although they are not sure how, if these plants do not exist any longer. The new research suggests that woolly mammoths and other animals that lived during the ice age probably ate high-protein forbs.

By Kimberly Ruble


Christian Science Monitor

National Geographic News

Outside Online

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