When flowers died out in Arctic, so did mammoths

Genetic analysis finds vegetation change around same time as megafauna extinction

6:04pm, February 6, 2014

WHERE GIANTS WALKED  Mammoths may have roamed steppes dominated by flowering herbs instead of grasses as previously thought, an analysis of ancient plant DNA suggests. Pictured is a mammoth tusk from the Logata River region in Russia.  

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.

This article is available only to subscribing members. Join SSP today or Log in.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More Life & Evolution articles