Climate change, not humans, to blame for extinction of mammoth
A team of researchers appear to have solved the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the woolly mammoth, giant sloth and other large land mammals which went extinct during the last Ice Age, 11,000 years ago.
Their findings suggest climate change was to blame, and humans played a much more minor role than previously thought.
Scientists found rapid spells of global warming were chiefly to blame for killing off the megafauna that dominated during the last glacial period, reports the Daily Mail.
They blame short warm periods resulting from climate change may have drastically changed rainfall patterns and vegetation in the areas where these beasts lived.
Hunting and habitat destruction by humans, which have often been blamed for causing the extinction of ice age giants, are likely to only delivered the final blow to the animals pushed to the brink by climate change.
Professor Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide who led the study, said: "This abrupt warming had a profound impact on climate that caused marked shifts in global rainfall and vegetation patterns.
"Even without the presence of humans we saw mass extinctions."
The researchers, whose work is published in the journal Science, used ancient DNA extracted from the fossilised remains of extinct ice age creatures and compared it to climate data stretching back 56,000 years.
The team were able to reconstruct changes in the climate through the Late Pliestocene using ice cores obtained from Greenland.
The DNA helped provide information about extinction events by allowing the researchers to look for periods when populations of the animals became restricted or contracted, causing a loss in genetic diversity.