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article imageStudy: Don't blame humans for Mastodon extinction - blame weather

By Marcus Hondro     Dec 1, 2014 in Science
The mastadon, a cousin of the elephant and the ancient wooly mammoth, has been a focus of attention for researchers in the Yukon Paleontology Program of late. The researchers have discovered the creatures lived in a different time than has been thought.
The research team, lead by paleontologist Grant Zazula, also discovered that the big beasts died from the opposite condition now threatening the planet earth - the mastodon died due to global cooling. They did not live 14,000 years ago, as long believed, but more like 75,000 years ago and died off because temperatures were getting colder, Zazula said.
"We know that mastodons - which are relatives of mammoths and elephants - are not really well adapted to cold conditions because their behaviour and their preferred habitats are forests. They eat forests-type plants," Zazula said. "We actually learned that based on what we know of mastodons' preferred habitat, they were actually probably killed off by global cooling, rather than global warming."
It had been thought that when the ice-age ended the warming air had been a cause of their demise, that and humans hunting them. But Zazula said their research suggests that they died off because of cooling temperatures, a long while before humans made their way across the Bering Land Bridge into Alaska and the Yukon from Asia.
There is a sizable collection of mastodon fossils from the Yukon and Alaska that were found over many years and the researchers were able to examine many of them. They used the most up-to-date radiocarbon dating available to make their findings. Once they had the time frame of the extinction they were able to draw conclusions about why it happened.
To Zazula the dating of these fossils had always seemed suspect due to the kind of environments they needed in order to thrive. They likely could not have, he says, lived during the last ice-age,which ended about 12.000 or so years ago, so when the radiocarbon dating showed they in fact died off as the ice-age was in its beginning, it made sense.
More about Mastodon, grant zazula, Ice age, Yukon Paleontology
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