(Washington) The equivalent of two rounds of the Earth in 28 years of life: Researchers have discovered the path of the woolly mammoth that lived in Alaska about 17,000 years ago, proving that this symbolic beast is actually a giant walker.
Their findings were published Thursday in the popular journal Science, Can shed light on theories of the extinction of this giant mammal with teeth larger than a human fist.
“In every popular culture, for example if you look (cartoon) Ice ageThere are always mammoths that migrate, move, and move around a lot, ”said Clement Batail, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa and co-author of the study. But “there’s no real reason, because such a large animal uses so much energy to move around,” he told AFP.
Still, the researchers were surprised by their results: the learned mammoth traveled a distance of about 70,000 km and did not live on a plain as they had hoped. “We see it moving across Alaska, so it’s a big area,” Clement Battle underscores. “It was really a miracle.”
Readings on a horn
For their work, the researchers selected a man who lived at the end of the last ice age. A particularly interesting specimen, because it is very recent, and therefore approaches the time of its extinction about 13,000 years ago.
One of the two teeth, called the “strontium isotope ratios”, was cut in half. Strontium is a chemical element similar to limestone. Isotopes are different forms of this element.
In the soil, strontium is transmitted to vegetation, and when the latter is absorbed by an organism, it is deposited in the bones, teeth, or gums.
These are constantly growing: the tip reflects the first years of life and the foundation the last.
Since the isotope ratios vary depending on the geography, Clement Battle developed an isotopic map of the area. By comparing the data from the teeth, it is possible to tell exactly where the mammoth was.
At that time, the glaciers covered the Brooks Mountains in the north and the Alaska Mountains in the south. In the middle is the plain of the Yukon River.
In general, the animal regularly returns to certain areas where it can survive for years. But before he finally died of starvation, his movements changed a lot with his age.
During the first two years of her life, researchers were able to observe the symptoms of breastfeeding. Between 2 and 16, movements are recorded, but mainly in central Alaska.
“After years of curiosity, isotopic variations become more significant,” explains Clement Battle. The mammoth has traveled three, four times in his life, not even 500, 600, 700 km in a few months. ”
To explain such movements, scientists have two theories. Like elephants, perhaps this male mammoth moved alone, from herd to herd, for reproduction.
Or he was facing a drought or a particularly severe winter, forcing him to look for an area with more food.
To questions about genetic diversity or resources, Clement Battle points out that “it is clear that this species needs a very large area to live.”
However, during the transition between the Ice Age and the Interglacial period, i.e. extinction, “the area shrunk because more forests grew,” “humans put strong pressure, and to its south, ‘Alaska, mammoths probably moved very little,’ he explains.
According to the researchers, understanding the factors that led to the extinction of mammoths could help protect other currently endangered megaphones, such as caribou or elephants.
Today, on the one hand, climate change is heating up the planet. On the other hand, “we’re going to limit this type of megaphones to parks” or protected areas, he said.
“Do our children want to see elephants 1000 years later like we see mammoths today?” ”
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