What led to Ice Age megafauna extinctions
Researchers have said that the gut content from permafrozen woolly rhinos, mammoth and other extinct ice age mammals could help reveal what led to this extinction.
After the Ice Age ended about 10,000 years ago it became warmer again. After the large reduction of plant diversity during the Last Glacial Maximum another kind of vegetation now appeared.
One of the key food sources of the large mammals- the protein-rich forbs - did not fully recover to their former abundance.
Professor Eske Willerslev, an ancient DNA researcher and director of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, said that they know that the loss of protein-rich forbs was likely a key player in the loss of the ice age megafauna.
Professor Christian Brochmann, a botanist at the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo in Norway, said that they showed that the permafrost contains a vast, frozen DNA archive left as footprints from past ecosystems, and that they can dechiffer this archive by exploring the collections of plants and animals stored in Natural History Museums.
He said that using DNA from museum collections as reference, we could identify the different plant species that co-occurred with extinct ice age mammals.
Dr. Mari Moora and Professor Martin Zobel, vegetation ecologists from the University of Tartu, Estonia, said that the new information shows clearly that the vegetation of the Late Pleistocene was rich in forbs but lost considerable diversity at the peak of the ice age.
They said that the different plant communities, with graminoids and woody plants prevailing, then started to develop during the Holocene.
The study has been published in the journal Nature.
(Posted on 06-02-2014)