Woolly Mammoth, Great Walk – Eye on the North Pole

An artistic representation of mammoths in their environment. (Photo: iStock)

A distance equal to twice the Earth’s circle in 28 years of age: Researchers have recovered the path taken by the woolly mammoth that lived about 17,000 years ago On Alaska, proving for the first time that this emblematic animal was indeed a remarkable walker.

Their discovery was published Thursday in the prestigious journal Sciences, could shed light on hypotheses regarding the extinction of these giant mammals, whose teeth were larger than a human fist.

“In all of popular culture, for example if you’re watching [le dessin animé] ice AgeClement Patai, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa and one of the study’s lead authors, notes that there are always mammoths that migrate, move, and move around a lot. However, there is no real reason, because it is a huge animal that consumes a lot of energy on the go.”

However, the researchers were amazed by their findings: the mammoths studied traveled a “tremendous” distance, about 70,000 kilometers, and did not remain on a plain as they expected.

We see it travels through the whole of Alaska, so it’s a vast expanse. It was really a surprise.Clement Patai, Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa

For their work, the researchers chose a male who lived at the end of the last Ice Age. A particularly interesting specimen, because it is very recent and therefore close to the time of the extinction of its species, about 13,000 years ago.

One of the canines was cut in half to perform scans of the so-called Strontium isotope ratios. Strontium is a chemical element very similar to limestone. Isotopes are different forms of this element.

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The strontium in the soil moves to vegetation, and when the latter is ingested by a living organism, it is lodged in bones, teeth … or fangs.

Constantly growing: the tip reflects the first years of life, and the norm, the last.

Since isotopic ratios vary depending on geology, Clément Bataille developed an isotopic map of the region. By comparing it with data from the canines, it is thus possible to determine precisely where the mammoths are.

At that time, glaciers covered all the mountains of the Brooks mountain range in the north and Alaska, in the south. In the middle was the plain of the Yukon River.

In general, the animal regularly returns to certain areas, where it can survive for several years. But his movements changed drastically depending on his age, before he eventually died of starvation.

During the first two years of her life, researchers were able to notice signs of breastfeeding. Then between 2 and 16 years, the movements were recorded, but mainly in central Alaska.

What was really surprising was that after the teenage years, the isotopic differences started to be more significant. A mammoth, three or four times in its life, has made an enormous journey of 500, 600, even 700 kilometers, in the span of a few months.Clement Patai

To explain these movements, scientists have two hypotheses. As with elephants, the male mammoth may have moved alone, from herd to herd, to breed.

Or perhaps he was suffering from drought or a particularly harsh winter, forcing him to search for an area where food was more plentiful.

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Whether it comes to questions of genetic diversity or resources, it is clear that this species needs a very large space to live, notes Clement Patai.

However, at the time of the transition between the Ice Age and the Ice Age, i.e. at the time of their extinction, “the area shrunk, because more forests grew” and “humans exerted a fairly strong pressure on its south.” Alaska, where mammoths move probably much less, He explains.

According to the researcher, understanding the factors that led to the mammoth’s disappearance may help protect other currently threatened megafauna species, such as caribou and elephants.

Today, on the one hand, climate change is warming the planet. On the other hand, we will restrict these types of megafauna to parks or protected areas, he says.

“Do we want our children 1,000 years from now to see elephants the same way we look at mammoths today?” “

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