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Frozen fauna remains reveal the vegetation composition of the mammoth steppe

The Late Pleistocene landscape in northern Eurasia and North America, known as the mammoth steppe, was inhabited by a specific megafaunal complex, which largely disappeared by the end of the Pleistocene. Vegetation changes are considered as one of the factors responsible for these extinctions, but the structure and composition of the Pleistocene vegetation are still poorly known. Jan Robovský from the Department of Zoology, FSci USB, together with his colleagues from Masaryk University in Brno, reconstructed the vegetation composition of this vanished biome using the plant remains found in the gastrointestinal tracts of the frozen carcasses of Pleistocene megaherbivores. In total, the team used more than two dozens of these animals – 14 mammoths, four wooly rhinos and bison, two horses, one rhinoceros (Stephanorhinus), and one reindeer. The results showed that these animals grazed in humid habitats, in a landscapes covered by tundra, semi-open taiga and peat bogs, not in a dry steppe. These preferences were consistent over time and were probably typical of northern Siberia and Beringia. It is impossible to say what the habitat preferences were in the southern regions of the Palaearctic, because frozen carcasses of large ungulates were not preserved there.

Axmanová, I., Robovský, J., Tichý, L., Danihelka, J., Troeva, E., & Protopopov A., (2019). Habitats of Pleistocene megaherbivores reconstructed from the frozen fauna remains. Ecography 42: 1-11, 10.1111/ecog.04940

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