It has been long debated as to what caused woolly mammoths to go extinct, from blaming humans, to extremely cold temperature drops. And now, a new study has claimed that climate change – specifically, the ground being too wet – may have been the actual cause of the woolly mammoths going extinct.
Geneticists analyzed ancient environmental DNA that was collected from the arctic over a 20-year period. These samples included animal and plant remains from soil samples where bones of woolly mammoths had previously been found. They were able to sequence DNA from 1,500 plants found in the Arctic.
Based on their analysis, the researchers claimed that when the icebergs melted, the ground became too wet which destroyed the vegetation that woolly mammoths depended on for their food source; therefore, leading to their demise. This was a ten-year research project that was led by Professor Eske Willerslev, a Fellow of St John's College, University of Cambridge, and director of The Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, University of Copenhagen.
Professor Willerslev described their findings in further detail, “We have finally been able to prove was that it was not just the climate changing that was the problem, but the speed of it that was the final nail in the coffin—they were not able to adapt quickly enough when the landscape dramatically transformed and their food became scarce.” “As the climate warmed up, trees and wetland plants took over and replaced the mammoth's grassland habitats...” Woolly mammoths fed on grass, plants, small shrubs, and flowers.
Dr. Yucheng Wang, who is a Research Associate at the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, weighed in by noting, “The most recent Ice Age—called the Pleistocene—ended 12,000 years ago when the glaciers began to melt and the roaming range of the herds of mammoths decreased. It was thought that mammoths began to go extinct then but we also found they actually survived beyond the Ice Age all in different regions of the Arctic and into the Holocene—the time that we are currently living in—far longer than scientists realized.” “When the climate got wetter and the ice began to melt it led to the formation of lakes, rivers, and marshes. The ecosystem changed and the biomass of the vegetation reduced and would not have been able to sustain the herds of mammoths. We have shown that climate change, specifically precipitation, directly drives the change in the vegetation—humans had no impact on them at all based on our models.”
Their study was published in Nature.
Whatever the reason was for their extinction, they may be on their way back as a new de-extinction company called Colossal stated that they are hoping to resurrect the woolly mammoth within the next six years.