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Division by subtraction: extinction of large mammal species likely drove survivors apart

Source: news.unl.edu

When a series of large mammal species began going extinct roughly 12,000 years ago, many surviving species began going their separate ways, says new research led by Macquarie University and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Published Sept. 20 in the journal Science, the study analyzed distributions of mammal fossils across North America following the last ice age, after the retreat of massive glaciers that had encroached south to the modern-day United States. The aftermath saw the disappearance of many famously large mammal species: mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and ground sloths, among others.

Surviving mammal species often responded by distancing themselves from their neighbors, the study found, potentially reducing how often they interacted as predators and prey, territorial competitors or scavengers.

The ecological repercussions of the extinctions are likely still echoing today and could preview the effects of future extinctions, said study co-author Kate Lyons. MORE

Header image: Bison are among the largest mammals in North America today, relics of a bygone era. Credit: S. Kathleen Lyons.

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