Wooly Mammoth Extinction Caused By Multiple Factors

The wooly mammoth once roamed across Siberia and North America, but died off more than 10,000, with a dwarf population trying to survive on the Wrangel Islands until about 4,000 years ago. Scientists have wondered if humans were the cause of the giant mammal’s extinction, but now they believe that it was a combination of factors, including climate change and habitat shifts.

USA Today reports that Glen MacDonald, as well as a team of scientists at the University of California Los Angeles, undertook a jumbo analysis of 1,323 mammoth samples and reported on the gradual disappearance of the pachyderms in the current issue of Nature Communications.

According to The Huffington Post, MacDonald Stated:

“These findings pretty much dispel the idea of any one factor, any one event, as dooming the mammoths.”

The researchers discovered that wooly mammoths tended to favor large grasslands with moderate temperatures, which make the idea that they favored the colder temperatures of the Ice Age false. Also, data taken from the open steppe of Beringia showed that humans and the giant creatures lived in harmony, meaning that our ancient ancestors did not kill off the population.

USA Today reports that the study authors explained the fall of the wooly mammoth by explaining that a combination of the Ice Age, then a warm up which did not allow willow, the mammoths’ main food source, to grow were factors, as well as the development of wet tundra, allowing poisonous plants to grow caused a substantial dent in the population. Finally, “Pressure from hunting was also present, as contemporary Paleolithic sites are numerous in both Siberia and now in northwestern North America.” The authors write that:

“Modelling studies show that given the environmental stresses at the time, even limited hunting by humans could have significantly contributed to woolly mammoth extinction.”

So, while hunting was not the only cause of wooly mammoth extinction, it was a contributing factor.