WHITEHORSE – The migration of herds of extinct behemoths to the Yukon and Alaska during warm periods between ice ages could hold clues and warning signs for animals today moving north during a climate of warming, according to a new research paper.
Mastodons, similar to today’s elephants and extinct mammoths, roamed much of North America, including parts of Mexico. The mastodons died out about 11,000 years ago along with the mammoths, big-toothed cats, giant beavers and camels of the West.
Emil Karpinski, a paleontologist at the Ancient DNA Center at McMaster, said the report was the result of six years of research that examined the fossil bones and teeth of more than 30 different behemoths.
He said research showed that behemoths migrated north several times during the periods between ice ages when the Earth warmed, but did not survive the return of ice ages.
“The behemoths were much more at home in these warmer, wooded wetland habitats with an abundance of shrubs and trees like spruce and pine to eat,” Karpinski said at a panel discussion. involving a dozen mastodon experts.
“We wanted to see, which is sort of the final hope of all of this research, if what we’re learning about these animals could be applied to current species,” he said.
“We are seeing very similar journeys in species like moose, snowshoe hare, beaver, not only in the arctic, but also various birds, fish and other species that are moving rapidly north in response to the global warming.
Karpinski said the research indicates that the herds of mastodons that migrated north were less genetically diverse and were more likely to disappear.
Grant Zazula, a Yukon government paleontologist and one of the report’s authors, said research shows herds of mastodons have migrated north more than once with the same disastrous results.
He said the northern behemoths were wiped out with the onset of an ice age 250,000 years ago and were also wiped out by a second ice age around 100,000 years ago.
“Their populations would have peaked about 100,000 years ago and that is when the climates were essentially as hot as they are today and the environment looked a lot like the environment in the world. ‘today,’ he said.
Zazula said the behemoths were not equipped to survive the colder climates of the Ice Age.
“What this shows us is that these populations at the border of migrations and extensions of their ranges really lack genetic diversity,” he said. “It doesn’t take much to wipe them out. It could be a change of climate. It could be the hunt. It could be an illness. ”
– By Dirk Meissner in Victoria.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 1, 2020.
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