The Pleistocene features an impressive menagerie of megafaunal species, including saber-tooth felines, cave bears, dire wolves, and the woolly rhinoceros. With an impressive weight of 2,000 kg (or 4,5000 pounds), the massive herbivores were present in a large number of territories.
The species reached the extinction point approximately 14,000 years ago, with Siberia remaining the last territory where they were present. The end of the last ice age and extensive overhunting activities conducted by humans were deemed to be the primary reasons for the extinction, but new research offers an interesting perspective.
Analyzing the genome
A joint team of researchers sequenced the genome of 14 woolly rhinos, with the DNA samples being collected from tissue, bone and hair samples. Advanced sequencing techniques were used to determine the potential size of the woolly rhino populations.
The genetic data offered valuable information about what happened with woolly rhinos between 29,000 years ago to 18,5000 years ago. Within the study, it is mentioned that the population was quite well-developed and stable in for thousands of years before the exaction, including the last millennia before the end of the ice age.
There is a 4,000 years gap between the period examined by researchers and the moment when the species went extinct, inferring that a massive decline may have taken place in a few hundred years. Special adaptions for sensing cold and warm temperatures were also observed, and the genetic diversity is higher in comparison to that of contemporary rhinos.
Some experts argue that humans played a crucial role in the demise of woolly rhinos, but the researchers who elaborated on the new study do not agree. The changing climate seems to be a more realistic culprit, even if the exact reason remains a mystery for now.
The study has been published in a scientific journal.