Per Möller/Johanna Anjar
For want of mums woolly mammoths were lost.
A genetic analysis of ancient permafrost suggests that after the last Ice Age the Arctic shifted from a landscape dominated by nutritious flowering plants known as forbs to one dominated by hard-to-digest grasses and woody plants. Evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues report the finding in the Feb. 6 Nature. That shift may have helped drive the extinction of large herbivores such as woolly mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses, Willerslev speculates.
The researchers examined 242 permafrost samples from 21 sites in Siberia, Alaska and Canada. Each sample was carbon dated to determine its age. To identify plants in the samples, the researchers sequenced DNA from plant organelles that carry out photosynthesis.
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