New research finds humans didn't cause woolly mammoth extinction

The woolly mammoth is an ancient ancestor of modern elephants covered with fur that roamed the ancient Earth alongside early humans. The massive creatures roamed the Earth for 5 million years before going extinct four thousand years ago. Some have speculated that the reason the woolly mammoth went extinct was from overhunting by ancient humans.

However, research conducted over the last decade has found a different reason the mammoth went extinct, and it had nothing to do with humans. Geneticists analyzed ancient environmental DNA, and the data shows the woolly mammoth went extinct due to global warming in the distant past. Researchers believe when the icebergs melted, it was too wet for the animals to survive because the vegetation they ate was practically wiped out.

The scientists used DNA shotgun sequencing to analyze plant and animal remains from the environment for the research. Among the material they analyzed were urine, feces, and skin cells taken from soil samples collected over two decades during the research of sites in the Arctic where mammoth remains were discovered. Modern DNA technology allows DNA to be analyzed without sourcing it from bones or teeth.

According to Professor Eske Willerslev, there's been an argument for a century on why mammoths went extinct. He and his group of researchers have been able to prove it wasn't climate change alone that ended the mammoth's time on the planet. The speed of climate change also contributed to their extinction. He says mammoths could not adapt quickly enough when the landscape changed dramatically, making their food source scarce.

When the climate suddenly warmed, the grasslands the mammoths relied on were replaced by various trees and wetland plants. The team sequenced the DNA from 1500 Arctic plants in their research, allowing them to draw their conclusions. Project researchers also determined that during the most recent ice age, which ended 12,000 years ago, the roaming range of the herds decreased. However, they didn't all go extinct. Mammoths survived beyond the last Ice Age in different regions into the current era we live in, called the Holocene, before meeting their end.