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Surprising Science

Distinct Extinct

New research has revealed how the extinction of mammoths and mastodons changed the landscape of the earth.

“The last breaths of mammoths and mastodons some 13,000 years ago have garnered plenty of research and just as much debate. But what happened when they disappeared? A new study, based partly on dung fungus, provides some answers to both questions. The upshot: The landscape changed dramatically. ‘As soon as herbivores drop off the landscape, we see different plant communities,’ said lead researcher Jacquelyn Gill of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, adding the result was an ‘ecosystem upheaval.’ Gill and her colleagues found that once emptied of a diversity of large animals equalling or surpassing that of Africa’s Serengeti, the landscape completely changed. Trees once kept in check by the mammoth gang popped up and so did wildfires sparked by the woody debris.”


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