Researchers retraced a woolly mammoth's steps 17,000 years after it died

Researchers retraced a woolly mammoth's steps 17,000 years after it died

12/31/2021 5:30:00 AM

Researchers retraced a woolly mammoth's steps 17,000 years after it died

Woolly mammoths roamed over wide open spaces, tusk analysis suggests. Using the animal's tusks as a guide, researchers traced the life journey of one woolly mammoth.

.The researchers examined chemicals deposited over time in one of the mammoth’s well-preserved tusks in order to map his movements and geographic range. They discovered that the intrepid animal roamed over most of the state of Alaska before eventually starving in the frigid north. If this wanderlust was shared by other members of his species, the findings could help shed light on why woolly mammoths died out.

“There are many questions about woolly mammoth extinction,” says Yue Wang, a paleontologist at Georgia Tech who was not involved in the research. One of the most crucial considerations is how much ground the animals covered during their lifetimes, which can help scientists understand how woolly mammoths were impacted by a changing climate and human activities.

“This research kind of solves this question,” Wang says. “This gives researchers like me some indications that the lifetime range of woolly mammoths can be very huge.”Present-day large herbivores such as elephants and caribou regularly cover large distances, and scientists have suspected that woolly mammoths behaved similarly. But it wasn’t clear when or how far they traveled, says Clement Bataille, a geologist at the University of Ottawa in Ontario and a coauthor of the findings.

Think your home value is soaring? Talk to a farmer

To find out, he and his colleagues analyzed a 1.7-meter-long (5.6 footlong) tusk from a male woolly mammoth that died around the age of 28 (some researchersestimatedthe animals lived for about 60 years). The remains date to about 17,100 years old, during the last ice age.

When animals eat or drink, traces of elements such as strontium and oxygen are integrated into their tissues. Certain versions, or isotopes, of these elements are more common in some locations than others. The ratios of different strontium isotopes in plants and soil reflect the geology of the underlying bedrock. The oxygen isotopes found in water vary depending on climatic conditions such as distance from the coast, temperature, and elevation, Bataille says.

“[In] the mammoth, because he has a continuously growing tusk, the strontium is progressively incorporated as he’s moving across the landscape into the tusk…like kind of a GPS record of what the animal is doing,” he says.Bataille and his colleagues had previously used hundreds of rodent teeth from museum collections to map how strontium isotopes varied in ecosystems all over Alaska. Unlike mammoths, rodents don’t migrate very far, so they can provide hyper-local data. The researchers also examined oxygen isotopes from mammoth and mastodon teeth collected across the landscape.

Florida senator fights back over nude images stolen from her

[Related: Male woolly mammoths lived fast, died young, and left more corpses]The team then compared the isotopic signatures found in the woolly mammoth tusk with these maps. They developed an algorithm to reconstruct the mammoth’s movements over time, constrained by barriers such as cliffs and glaciers and the likely distance he could travel in a week, which they estimated based on their presumed metabolism, size, and how far present-day species, such as caribou, can travel.

The simulated pathways all suggested that the mammoth covered a “staggering” amount of territory in his lifetime. “He was wandering across a huge, huge range and across almost the entire Alaska landscape,” Bataille says.The isotopes found within the growth lines of the tusk’s first few centimeters suggest that the mammoth spent its infancy in the lower Yukon River basin. As a juvenile, he explored a larger area in the lowlands of interior Alaska, likely as part of a herd.

Then, after reaching the age of about 16 years, the mammoth began undertaking much longer journeys that sometimes spanned hundreds of miles. This shift may have represented the point at which the mammoth was kicked out of his herd, as often happens with male elephants when they reach maturity.

Mayor's anti-violence 'blueprint' could shape Democratic messaging: The Note

Finally, the mammoth didn’t return from one of his trips northward. He spent the last year and a half of his life north of the Brooks Range, within the Arctic Circle. During this time, nitrogen isotopes in the tusk sharply increased, a phenomenon often seen when starving animals must break down their own proteins to produce energy. The mammoth may have become injured or too weak to make the voyage south toward more hospitable conditions.

The findings likely don’t reveal the woolly mammoth’s precise range, Bataille cautions. For one thing, the rodent teeth he and his team examined reflect Alaska’s recent landscape, which has changed since the time of the mammoth.There are also limits to what can be determined from a single mammoth’s tusks, Matthew Wooller, director of the Alaska Stable Isotope Facility at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a coauthor of the findings, said in an email. He and his colleagues plan to investigate other mammoths, including females, under differing time periods and climates.

Around 12,000 years ago, a warming climate allowed boreal forests to move north, which may have restricted the ability of woolly mammoths to travel and graze across the tundra.“An implication of our work is that if mammoths continued to move around on this scale, it may have imparted extra stress on mammoths,” Wooller said. “As the environment changed after the end of the last ice age things might have become pretty tough for mammoths trying to move around this much.”

A vast geographic range may also have contributed to the woolly mammoth’s extinction by bringing the animals more frequently into the path of humans.The findings also highlight the vulnerability of modern-day animals in the Arctic and how they might have to change their behaviors and movements in response to climate change, Wooller added.

Read more: Popular Science »

Biden meets with Europeans about Ukraine as US puts 8,500 troops on 'heightened alert' to be sent to region

President Joe Biden held a video call with European allies on Monday as Western nations warned the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine remained high. Read more >>

well now I'd like maps for all of the others. One day wooly mammoths will be retracing our steps after we die.

SportsDay’s expert NFL picks for Week 17: Bengals-Chiefs, Titans-Dolphins, Colts-Raiders and moreAs the regular season starts to wind down, several teams will continue their playoff push this week. Leading the matchups with playoff-seeding implications, ...

Illinois Secretary of State driver services facilities to close from Jan. 3-17Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White announced Wednesday that driver services facilities would close in January due to COVID. 'But I still get paid, right?'--Jesse White Nonsense Last time they ended up closing for 6months. Then had 2 DMVs open for the entire city of Chicago. Must be nice to be a govt employee. You still see emergency services, grocery store, airport, restaurants, medical offices and MOST private employers etc. still open and show up!

Fantasy Football Week 17 Start/Sit Advice | The Draft NetworkNeed help figuring out who to start or sit in your fantasy lineups this week with a championship on the line? ZachCohenFB breaks down players to get in and out of your lineup at each position for Week 17. FrontOffice33 | FantasyFootball

Start 'Em, Sit 'Em Week 17: Running BacksMichael Fabiano takes a look at the players you have the most questions about to help you set the most effective fantasy lineup possible.

17 Holiday Gifts for Your Stressed Best FriendWe don't have any gifts to help rebuild society, but we've tried a wide variety of products from meditation tools to silky robes that might help with the relaxing part.

JetBlue cancels 17% of flights, airlines report more than 1,000 domestic cancellations ThursdayMore than 1,000 flights have been canceled within, into, or out of the US as of Thursday, and JetBlue canceled 17% of its flights.