On one of our 'bird science
days', this being where we explored very remote parts of the
Chukotka coast looking for breeding habitat of the Spoonbilled
Sandpiper, an interesting find was made.
These excursions were a
highlight of the Arctic voyage as they provided a meaningful purpose to
ones travels. They also meant one meet some wonderful and passionate
scientists and wildlife protection people from around the world. In addition, we hiked across land areas that had
not been explored for decades, some areas possibly never.
Groups of people used to walk
line abreast across an area conducting a 'line search' for possible
Spoonbill nests. On one such sweep one member (Thomas) was seen to stoop down
and start scraping and clearing away some of the ground cover. He
soon arose triumphant with a Mammoth Tusk slung over his shoulder!!!
One could conclude that no
one had been standing where he was for 'quite some time'. This was
arctic tundra with a permafrost base so massive sub soil movements
would not be so prevalent.
Thomas then had to carry this
back to the coast for a Zodiac collection - some 6km!!! I think his
team covered 26km of Tundra hiking that day, a record for the entire
expedition! You could choose how intense a group you joined for
these science excursions.
|And now for the interesting
article related to Mammoth DNA!!
Boffins have claimed that the demise of the woolly mammoth was
caused by climate change, offering up an alternate theory to the
premise that its spot on the human menu was to blame for the
British and Swedish researchers examined 300 mammoth carcasses from
around the world and found that populations tumbled during warm
periods known as interglacials, which fell between chilly ice ages.
Populations of the hairy beasts became split up during these long
warm spells, with smaller populations clinging on in cold, icy
regions in different parts of the world.
In the hotter eras, populations became "extremely dynamic", with
numbers of mammoths plunging dramatically in some places and
shooting up in others, depending on the climate.
We are currently living in an interglacial period which has lasted
since the end of the Pleistocene Era, the era when modern humans
started to use tools. It was previously believed that group of
hungry humans used these tools to hunt the slow-moving mammoths to
“We found that a previous warm period some 120,000 years ago caused
populations to decline and become fragmented, in line with what we
would expect for cold-adapted species such as the woolly mammoth”,
said Eleftheria Palkopoulou from the Swedish Museum of Natural
History, who was lead author of the report.
During this ancient heatwave, when sea levels were high and the
climate was roughly as warm as it is today, mammoths became confined
to small, cold areas.
“This suggests that spells of warm climate made the mammoth more
susceptible to extinction”, said Dr Love Dalén, who also works at
the Swedish Museum of Natural History.
This population fragmentation also led to the development of a
unique type of mammoth in Europe, which existed when the continent
was frozen solid.
The team found that a genetically distinct species of European
mammoth was then muscled out by Siberian mammoths when the world
froze about 30,000 years ago.
The Russian mammoths' reign last about 16,000 years, until the world
once again began to warm.
“It thus seems likely that environmental changes played a
significant role in shaping the woolly mammoth's demographic
history, with warm periods restricting the amount of available
habitat and cold periods leading to population expansions,” the
Now the team wants to resolve why the mammoth survived "in
refugia"(a phrase used to denote small pockets of once common
animals) during early interglacials but not the Holocene, the name
for the current warm period we are living through.
"To understand why the species as a whole became extinct, we
therefore must look more closely into these final places where
mammoths survived, such as St. Paul and Wrangel Islands [in the
Bering Sea]”, added Dr. Ian Barnes from Royal Holloway University,
The report is titled Holarctic genetic structure and range dynamics
in the woolly mammoth and was published by the Royal Society.