Quaternary Science Reviews
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Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), horse (Equus spp.) and bison (Bisonspp.) coexisted with a variety of mammalian megafauna across the Pleistocene mammoth steppe e a megacontinental ecosystem that spanned northern Eurasia and northwestern North America. Previous research has suggested that highly conserved niches with minimal niche overlap allowed high levels of species diversity on the mammoth steppe. Here we evaluate previously published and some new collagen carbon and nitrogen isotope data (delta13C, delta15N) for mammoth steppe megaherbivores using Stable Isotope Bayesian Ellipses in R (SIBER) and linear regression models to determine isotopic niches for individual species during broad time intervals (pre-, during and post-Last Glacial Maximum (LGM)) at multiple geographic regions across the mammoth steppe. Individual species maintained relatively consistent isotopic niche positions at different geographic locations and during different times. Diet and habitat niches for any given species appear to have been similar across the mammoth steppe. Between some regions and times, however, species' isotopic niches changed, suggesting adaptation to local climatic conditions and/or changes in the nitrogen isotope patterns at the base of the food web. Isotopic niche overlap, including at the level of core niche overlap (>60% overlap), was observed in at least one time and region for most species. This overlap suggests high levels of functional redundancy in the ecosystem, whereby one species could fulfil another's ecological role in the latter's absence. Despite spatial and temporal environmental variation, species' adaptability and functional redundancy within the ecosystem would have made the mammoth steppe a highly resilient ecosystem.