The science community is constantly issuing warnings about the threat global warming poses to our future, but perhaps we only need to look in the past to see how devastating its effects can be. A team of researchers from two Australian universities has found that it is likely some form of global warming was the cause that led to the extinction of the woolly mammoth.
It was previously also thought that changes in global temperature levels have driven the species extinct. The existing theories were based upon the idea the entire species disappeared very fast, which was supported by analysis of the DNA structures in the bones of mammoths. Scientists linked their disappearance with a drop in temperatures across the planet.
But the Australian research team believes that the exact opposite happened. Using supposedly more accurate temperatures estimates for that period and new carbon dating techniques, they found that the Earth suffered a sharp increase in temperature at the time the massive beasts died off.
Mammoths are often associated with our planet’s last ice age, and that is correct. The species was adapted to living in cold climates, and that may be why it failed to survive. Even during an ice age there may be periods lasting for thousands of years when an effect similar to what we know as global warming can occur.
These periods are called interstadials (while the colder periods are named stadials) and one of them could have had disastrous effects on the large mammals. According to members of the study, this change happened faster than mammoths could adapt to it.
By the time the first humans appeared, the remaining mammoths were already on the brink of extinction. There were also many other large terrestrial species that probably suffered the same fate in that period, such as the land sloth.
While fascinating for its study of the past, the research could indirectly reveal important implications for the future. Global warming can have deadly effects even without human intervention. But even so, it is unlikely that the warming of the planet during that interstadial period happened anywhere near as fast as it is happening in our times.
If that relatively slow change in climate was enough to spell the end for many species, then the global warming we are facing today could prove much more disastrous. We can only hope that other current species will not share the fate of the mammoth.
Image Source: ww2.kqed.org