The spatio-temporal pattern of extinction of the woolly mammoth is traced with radiocarbon dating in a study published in Nature Communications this week. The findings show how the Beringian mammoth, which lived in abundance 45,000 to 30,000 years ago, experienced a long decline facing changes in climate, habitat and the presence of humans, until the loss of final island populations about 4,000 years ago.
Glen MacDonald and colleagues used a georeferenced data-base of radiocarbon dates to study the pattern of extinction in Beringia - which spreads over present-day Alaska and eastern Siberia and was the last refuge of the woolly mammoth. The results suggest that mammoths were abundant in the open-habitat between 45,000-30,000 years ago, during the last ice age. The final continental mammoths, concentrated in the north, disappeared around 10,000 years as the climate warmed and peatlands, wet tundra and coniferous forest developed. The final island populations became extinct around 4,000 years ago. The authors conclude that the extinction of the woolly mammoth was most likely not due to a single cause, but the result of a long decline with changes in climate, habitat and human presence.