Lifetime mobility of an Arctic woolly mammoth
Fossils have long given us glimpses of the life that came before us, but these glimpses are generally static. They tell us a bit about species that lived, but not much about how they lived. Evolving techniques are deepening our viewpoint. Wooller et al. examined isotopes collected from the tusk of a 17,000-year-old mammoth to elucidate its movements from birth to death. This included its time—likely with a herd—as an infant and juvenile, then as a prime-age adult, and then as a declining senior over its approximately 28-year life span.
Little is known about woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) mobility and range. Here we use high temporal resolution sequential analyses of strontium isotope ratios along an entire 1.7-meter-long tusk to reconstruct the movements of an Arctic woolly mammoth that lived 17,100 years ago, during the last ice age. We use an isotope-guided random walk approach to compare the tusk’s strontium and oxygen isotope profiles to isotopic maps. Our modeling reveals patterns of movement across a geographically extensive range during the animal’s ~28-year life span that varied with life stages. Maintenance of this level of mobility by megafaunal species such as mammoth would have been increasingly difficult as the ice age ended and the environment changed at high latitudes.
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