Woolly rhinoceros extinction linked to human activity

Woolly rhinoceros extinction linked to human activity

Rhinoceros Extinction

Researchers from the University of Adelaide and the University of Copenhagen have solved a 10,000-year-old mystery regarding the extinction of the woolly rhinoceros. The study indicates that human activity, along with climate change, played a significant role in the species’ demise. The woolly rhinoceros, a megafauna of Eurasia, stood nearly two meters tall and had horns up to a meter in length.

The research team used ancient DNA, fossils, and advanced computer modeling to investigate the species’ decline over 52,000 years. They found that 30,000 years ago, increased hunting pressures and cooling temperatures led to fragmented populations moving south, becoming isolated and vulnerable. As the Earth thawed and temperatures rose, woolly rhinoceros populations were unable to colonize opening up habitats in Northern Eurasia, leading to their extinction,” said lead author Associate Professor Damien Fordham.

The study challenges the earlier belief that humans were not involved in the woolly rhinoceros extinction.

Human impact on woolly rhinoceros

It emphasizes that low levels of sustained hunting were enough to push the population toward a tipping point during environmental stress.

The woolly rhinoceros once roamed parts of Europe and Northern Asia during the Pleistocene epoch. However, as the Last Ice Age ended, their habitat deteriorated, and they could not adapt to the changing environment and increased human pressures. The research holds critical implications for modern conservation efforts.

Understanding past extinctions can provide valuable lessons for protecting today’s threatened species, such as rhinos in Africa and Asia, which are currently threatened by hunting and climate change. By applying the insights gained from the woolly rhinoceros extinction, conservation strategies can be better designed to protect the remaining large herbivores endangered by similar pressures. Key to these strategies is addressing both environmental changes and human impacts, such as illegal hunting, to ensure their survival.

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The study, published in the journal PNAS, underscores the importance of integrating paleoecology and modern conservation science to safeguard Earth’s remaining megafauna.


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