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Historic People Performed Position in Demise of Woolly Rhinoceros, New Analysis Suggests

The extinction of the woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis) at the onset of the Holocene remains an enigma, with conflicting evidence regarding its cause and dynamics. Using a computationally intensive modeling approach and extensive paleontological and ancient DNA information, a team of paleontologists led by University of Adelaide and University of Copenhagen scientists reveals how and

Historic People Performed Position in Demise of Woolly Rhinoceros, New Analysis Suggests

The extinction of the woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis) on the onset of the Holocene stays an enigma, with conflicting proof relating to its trigger and dynamics. Utilizing a computationally intensive modeling method and intensive paleontological and historical DNA data, a group of paleontologists led by College of Adelaide and College of Copenhagen scientists reveals how and why this enigmatic species went extinct.

Woolly rhinoceroses (Coelodonta antiquitatis) were once widely distributed across northern and central Eurasia, before going extinct some 10,000 years ago. Image credit: Mauricio Anton.

Woolly rhinoceroses (Coelodonta antiquitatis) have been as soon as extensively distributed throughout northern and central Eurasia, earlier than going extinct some 10,000 years in the past. Picture credit score: Mauricio Anton.

The woolly rhinoceros was an iconic member of the mammoth steppe fauna of central and northern Eurasia, originating on the Tibetan plateau roughly 2.5 million years in the past.

It was a cold-adapted species lined in thick pores and skin and lengthy fur, with a physique dimension just like the residing African white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum).

Based mostly on fossil chronology, the woolly rhinoceros was presumed extinct by 13,900 years in the past, regardless of surviving repeated glacial-interglacial cycles of the Pleistocene.

Nevertheless, the latest discovery of woolly rhinoceros DNA in early Holocene sediments signifies a later extinction date of 9,800 years in the past. Whereas there may be ongoing debate surrounding this younger age estimate, redeposition of DNA is unlikely to be its trigger.

“Utilizing pc fashions, fossils and historical DNA, we traced 52,000 years of inhabitants historical past of the woolly rhinoceros throughout Eurasia at a decision not beforehand thought-about doable,” mentioned College of Adelaide’s Dr. Damien Fordham.

“This confirmed that from 30,000 years in the past, a mixture of cooling temperatures and low however sustained looking by people triggered the woolly rhinoceros to contract its distribution southward, trapping it in a scattering of remoted and quickly deteriorating habitats on the finish of the Final Ice Age.”

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“As Earth thawed and temperatures rose, populations of woolly rhinoceros have been unable to colonize necessary new habitats opening up within the north of Eurasia, inflicting them to destabilise and crash, bringing about their extinction.”

The brand new research contradicts earlier analysis that discovered people had no function within the extinction of the woolly rhinoceros — regardless of the animal co-occurring with people for tens of 1000’s of years previous to its extinction.

“The demographic responses revealed by our evaluation have been at a a lot greater decision to these captured in earlier genetic research,” mentioned College of Copenhagen’s Professor Eline Lorenzen.

“This allowed us to pinpoint necessary interactions that woolly rhinoceroses had with people and doc how these modified by way of house and time.”

“One among these largely missed interactions was persistent low ranges of looking by people, in all probability for meals.”

“People pose an analogous environmental risk immediately,” the researchers mentioned.

“Populations of huge animals have been pushed into fragmented and suboptimal habitat ranges resulting from over looking and human land-use change.”

“There have been 61 species of huge terrestrial herbivores — weighing multiple ton — alive within the late Pleistocene, and solely eight of those exist immediately. 5 of these surviving species are rhinoceroses.”

“Our findings reveal how local weather change and human actions can result in megafauna extinctions,” mentioned College of Copenhagen’s Professor David Nogues-Bravo.

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“This understanding is essential for growing conservation methods to guard at the moment threatened species, like weak rhinos in Africa and Asia.”

“By finding out previous extinctions, we are able to present useful classes for safeguarding Earth’s remaining giant animals.”

The study seems within the Proceedings of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences.


Damien A. Fordham et al. 2024. 52,000 years of woolly rhinoceros inhabitants dynamics reveal extinction mechanisms. PNAS 121 (24): e2316419121; doi: 10.1073/pnas.2316419121

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