Earth Sciences Publications

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Scientific Reports

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Understanding woolly mammoth ecology is key to understanding Pleistocene community dynamics and evaluating the roles of human hunting and climate change in late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions. Previous isotopic studies of mammoths’ diet and physiology have been hampered by the ‘mammoth conundrum’: woolly mammoths have anomalously high collagen δ15N values, which are more similar to coeval carnivores than herbivores, and which could imply a distinct diet and (or) habitat, or a physiological adaptation. We analyzed individual amino acids from collagen of adult woolly mammoths and coeval species, and discovered greater  15N enrichment in source amino acids of woolly mammoths than in most other herbivores or carnivores. Woolly mammoths consumed an isotopically distinct food source, reflective of extreme aridity, dung fertilization, and (or) plant selection. This dietary signal suggests that woolly mammoths occupied a distinct habitat or forage niche relative to other Pleistocene herbivores.



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