Publication details

Habitats of Pleistocene megaherbivores reconstructed from the frozen fauna remains

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Year of publication 2020
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Ecography
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Keywords mammoth steppe; megafauna habitats; northern Siberia and Beringia; palaeobotany; Pleistocene vegetation; vegetation reconstructions
Description The Late Pleistocene landscape in northern Eurasia and North America was inhabited by a specific megafaunal complex, which largely disappeared during the Pleistocene/Holocene transition. Vegetation changes are considered as one of the factors responsible for these extinctions, but the structure and composition of the Pleistocene vegetation are still poorly known. Here we complement previous studies by comparing the taxonomic composition of the plant remains found in the gastrointestinal tracts of the frozen carcasses of Pleistocene megaherbivores with the species composition of the current Siberian vegetation. We compiled a dataset of palaeobotanical records from frozen individuals of Pleistocene megaherbivores found in northern Siberia and Beringia and dated to the period from more than 50 kyr BP to 9 kyr BP. We also compiled a dataset of vegetation plots from several regions in Siberia. We analysed the similarity in taxonomic composition of plants between these two datasets using a novel method that accounts for variable taxonomic resolution in palaeobotanical data. For most megaherbivore individuals, plant remains in their gastrointestinal tracts corresponded to tundra, forest and mire vegetation, while they showed low similarity to steppe. This pattern was relatively constant over time, showing no remarkable differences between the Last Glacial Maximum and the periods before and afterwards. This suggests that during the Upper Pleistocene, a mosaic of mesic and wet vegetation types such as tundra with patches of forests and mires was common in northern Siberia and Beringia. In contrast, the steppe was rare to absent in the landscape or underused by the megaherbivores as a pasture since they found enough food in the widespread mesic and wet habitats with more productive vegetation.
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