Baby Mammoth Weaning Age Decreased Leading Up To Extinction

First Posted: Oct 29, 2015 10:21 AM EDT

Researchers detected that the weaning age (when a calf stops nursing) in Siberian woolly mammoths decreased significantly leading up to extinction, according to researcher Michael Cherney from the University of Michigan.

Cherney studied modern elephants at the Toledo Zoo, where he was able to identify the isotopic (two or more forms of the same element) effects of mammoths and elephants, which are a close relative of mammoths, according to a news release.

Cherney found that nitrogen isotopes are well preserved in fossil mammoth tusks, which grew throughout life. The tusks from juvenile mammoths reveal the weaning stages of the mammoths.   

"I think analysis of life-history data from fossil proboscidean tusks is a tool that could resolve questions concerning the late Pleistocene extinctions of various fossil elephant species. These insights also give context for understanding other contemporaneous extinctions and the impact of past human populations on their environments," said Cherney.

Proboscideans included the modern living elephants as well as the extinct mammoths, mastodons and gomphotheres. They all belong to one family, but they are several extinct species.  

Cherney also added that climate change delayed weaning stages in modern elephants and hunting accelerated maturation in populations. Cherney's results showed that Siberian woolly mammoths' weaning age decreased during the start of extinction.  

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