An international team of researchers used computer simulations to show that the combination of climate change and human hunting is likely to have led to the extinction of the woolly mammoth. They speculate that if it weren’t for human hunters, mammoths would have survived for another 4,000 years.
Scientists have been debating why the woolly mammoth died for years. Some speculate that they became extinct due to climate change as the planet began to warm up after the last ice age, roughly 15,000 years ago. Some believe that climate change has led to the extinction of mammoths in North America. Others blame human hunters. Some research groups have suggested that this is likely a combination of both.
Previous research has shown that as the planet warmed up after the last ice age, woolly mammoths began to move northward – they survived by eating grasses that grow in colder climates. Previous research also showed that most of them died out about 11,000 years ago – small foci survived in some isolated areas for several thousand more years. It is believed that the last of them became extinct about 4000 years ago.
The researchers have now created a simulation showing the population of woolly mammoths from roughly 21,000 years ago to 4,000 years ago, when the last of the mammoths died out. To recreate the conditions that mammoths faced, the researchers added climate data as well as known data on human hunting. They simulated over 90,000 times with minor changes to factors that could have caused them to die.
Modeling has shown that the most likely scenario is climate change, pushing mammoths into smaller habitats, and hunters finishing them off. The modeling also revealed that it is likely that some of the mammoths in the population survived longer than anticipated in regions that had not yet been explored. Interestingly, the researchers also found that if we exclude human hunters from the simulation, most mammoths would last another 4,000 years.