About 10,000 years ago the mammoth disappeared from northern Russia, Canada and Alaska. DNA research now suggests that the extinction of the mammoth in those areas was associated with a drastic change in vegetation: herbaceous plants gave way to much less nutritious grasses.
It was once a busy place on the tundra of the far north. Mammoths, horses, bison and woolly rhinos lived there. But most of these animals disappeared some 10,000 years ago. Why the animals suddenly cleared the field is still a mystery. Did it have to do with the climate? Or did people follow them?
In an attempt to find an answer to those questions, the researchers studied which plants grew on the tundra around the time that mammoths, among others, disappeared. They collected soil samples from different eras and studied the DNA that plants had left in the soil. In addition, the researchers analyzed the stomach contents of eight large mammals found in the frozen soil. This gave them an idea of what these animals preferred to eat.
The researchers conclude that in the area where the mammoths lived during the last ice age, mainly herbaceous plants grew instead of grasses. And that is news. Researchers always assumed that this area - also referred to as mammoth steppe - was mainly covered with grass. Now it appears that the area mainly contained herbaceous plants and that those plants made way for grass at the end of the ice age.
Grass is considerably less nutritious than herbaceous plants. The researchers therefore think that the new vegetation caused many large animals - including the mammoth - to disappear from the area.