Learning about what led to their extinction could potentially save existing species from a similar fate, researchers said.
Mammoths once roamed the entire northern hemisphere, researchers said. But when the last ice age ended and global warming followed 15,000 years ago, shrinking ice and rising sea levels isolated populations.
Some of the newly formed groups died as a result. Others survived another 10,000 years before finally succumbing.
To find out why some survived, a team of Finnish, Russian and German scientists studied clues in woolly mammoth bones, tusks and teeth collected in Canada, Alaska, Siberia and Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean. Any differences in composition of elements would indicate changes in diet, habitat and environment that could’ve prolonged or shortened their lives.
Wrangel mammoths outlived other members of the species
That’s largely due to the behemoth’s use of energy. When compared to their Siberian counterparts, who relied on fat reserves to survive intense winters, the Wrangel mammoths likely expended less energy because their habitat’s conditions weren’t as intense, researchers said.
An extreme weather event compounded their declining health. Rain and snow might’ve coated the ground in a thick layer of ice, researchers said, keeping the mammoths from foraging, starving them.
Humans might’ve played a role in their extinction, too, though their involvement is less likely. The earliest evidence of human life on Wrangel Island succeeded the mammoths by just a few hundred years, researchers said, though they hadn’t found any signs of human hunting.
It’s too late for mammoths, but there’s still time to save critically endangered species. Studying the biosignatures in the remains of the last-surviving woollies and what caused their extinction might help conservationists prevent critically endangered species from dying out, too.