Researchers have tracked the astonishing flight of a woolly mammoth in the North Pole, which in its 28 years of life covered enough Alaska to circle the Earth nearly twice.
In a work published in SciencesScientists – from Austria, China and the United States – They collected unprecedented details of his life by analyzing a fossil 17,000 Years from the University of Alaska Museum in the North. By generating and studying isotopic data for mammoth tusks, they were able to correlate its movements and diet with isotopic maps of the region.
So far, few details are known about the life and movements of the woolly mammoth, and The study provides the first evidence that they traveled long distances.
“It’s not clear if it was a seasonal migrant, but it covered a lot of land – aUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks researcher Matthew Waller, lead author and co-author of the article, noted in a statement.. He visited many parts of Alaska at some point in his life, Which is surprising when you consider the size of this area.”
Researchers at the Alaska Stable Isotope Facility, which is directed by Waller, sliced the two-meter-long canine lengthwise and created about 400,000 microscopic data points using lasers and other techniques.
Their detailed isotopic analyzes are made possible by the way mammoth tusks grow. Mammoths added new layers daily throughout their lives. When the tusks were segmented lengthwise for sampling, these growth bands looked like stacked ice cream cones, providing a chronological record of a mammoth’s entire life.
From the moment they are born to the day they die, they have a diary written on their fangs — Pat Druckenmiller, paleontologist and director of the North UA Museum, explains.. Mother Nature does not usually provide such comforting records and perpetual life of an individual.
Scientists knew the mammoth died on Alaska’s North Slope, above the Arctic Circle, where its remains were excavated by a team including UA’s Dan Mann and Pam Groves, who are among the study’s co-authors.
The researchers reconstructed the mammoth’s journey to that point by analyzing the isotopic signatures on its canine for the elements strontium and oxygen, which were compared to maps that predicted isotopic variations across Alaska. The researchers created the maps by analyzing the teeth of hundreds of small rodents from across Alaska preserved in the museum’s collections. Animals travel relatively small distances during their lives and They represent the local isotope signals.
Using that set of local data, they mapped isotopic variance across Alaska, providing a baseline for tracking mammoth movements. After taking into account geographical barriers and the average distance traveled each week, the researchers used a new spatial modeling method Keep track of the possible routes the animal has taken during its life.
Ancient DNA preserved in the mammoth remains allowed the team to identify it as a male related to the last group of its kind that lived on mainland Alaska. These details provided more information about the animal’s life and behaviour, said Beth Shapiro, who led the study’s DNA component.
For example, the abrupt change in his isotopic signature, environment, and movements around the age of 15 probably coincided with The mammoth was expelled from his herd, reflecting a pattern observed in some current male elephants.
“Knowing that it was male gave us a better biological context in which we could interpret isotopic data”, Shapiro, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, says.
The isotopes also provided clues to the causes of the animal’s death. Nitrogen isotopes increased during the last winter of their life, a sign that may be a hallmark of starvation in mammals.
“It’s amazing what we’ve been able to see and do with this data,” It highlights co-author Clement Patai, a researcher at the University of Ottawa who led the modeling work in collaboration with Amy Willis of the University of Washington.
Finding more about the life of the extinct species satisfies more than curiosity, says Waller, a professor at UAF’s School of Fisheries and Oceans and the Nordic Institute of Engineering. These details may be surprisingly relevant today, as many species have adapted their movement patterns and ranges to climate change.
“The Arctic is going through many changes, and we can use the past to see how the future will unfold for current and future species –Averma Waller-. Trying to solve this detective story is an example of how our planet and Ecosystems react to environmental change“.
Either because of genetic diversity or scarcity of resources, Patai said, “this species obviously needs a very large space” to live.
But at the time of the transition between the Ice Age and the Interglacial period, when they became extinct, “The area was reduced because more forests grew” and “Humans exerted such strong pressure in southern Alaska that the mammoths probably stopped coming.”
Understanding the factors that led to their extinction can help protect other currently threatened megafauna species, such as caribou and elephants.
With climate change and humans restricting larger species to parks and reserves, “Do we want our children to see elephants in 1,000 years as we see mammoths today?” asks Patai.
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