For long, scientists have wondered the cause behind the extinction of Earth’s largest animals like woolly mammoths, giant sloth bears and other giant mammals. Earlier, scientists believed that ancient humans living 50,000 years ago, caused their extinction by hunting them down.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide and the University of New South Wales in Australia found that a rapid climate change event known as interstadials during the last ice age or the Pleistocene, about 60,000 to 12,000 years ago, was the period when major extinction events occurred. The study highlights the fact that climate change plays a great threat to animals, and could have major repercussions in the present era of global warming.
“The real message here is that rapid changes are really tough, and [species] can get outrun by the climate changes,” said Chris Feild, founding director of Carnegie Institutions, Department of Global Ecology.
Researchers compared the ancient megafunal DNA with the geological records of severe climate events from ice cores and sediments. They found that the gradual death of the large mammals coincided with the rapid climate change event during Pleistocene. Co-author Alan Cooper from the University of Adelaide, and the Australian Center for Ancient DNA said that the unexpected increase in global warming led to a heavy impact on climate change.
The study revels that present day animals: Javan Rhino and Cross River Gorilla are on their way to extinction. Though scientists were able to figure out cold weather was the reason for extinction, advancements in DNA sourcing from fossils and carbon dating helped them to strengthen the study.
Co-author Chris Turney from the University of South Wales said that the “new and improved data” made it clear that rapid climate change was the primary cause of extinctions during the ice age. It should also be noted that ancient humans also played a part in the extinction of the large mammals.[ Source ]