Conceptual art of Elasmotherium sibiricum. Image: W.S. Van der Merve / Museum of Natural History
Weighing more than 7,700 pounds and sports, which is probably the biggest rhino horn of all time, Elasmotherium sibiricum-commonly known as the Siberian Unicorn, it was an incredible sight.
But despite the impressive appearance of an extinct rhino, very little is known about it. This changed on Monday from the publication of the article in Ecology and evolution of nature representing the first DNA analysis of the remains of the Siberian unicorn.
Under the leadership of Pavlos Kosintsev, a paleontologist of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a group of researchers concluded that the Siberian unicorn died out about 39,000 years ago, suggesting that modern humans and Neanderthals shared Eurasia with this epic beast over the past years on earth . Previous estimates have shown that the rhino died out 200,000 years ago.
Although people were implicated in the disappearance of many megafauna species, such as woolly mammoths and giant Lenin, Kosintsev and his colleagues think that our ancestors stay a distance from this rhinoceros and that climate change is probably the main factor behind its demise.
“It is unlikely that the presence of people has caused the disappearance,” said co-author Chris Terney, climate scientist at the University of New South Wales, in a statement. "The Siberian unicorn seems to have suffered greatly from the beginning of the Ice Age in Eurasia, when a sharp drop in temperature led to an increase in the amount of frozen soils, a decrease in the dry and dry herbs that it inhabited, and affecting the population in a vast region."
The traditional extinction timescale of the Siberian unicorn was first challenged. E. sibiricum skull excavated in Kazakhstan in 2016. The skull was dated 29,000 years ago, but the measurement was considered unreliable because its collagen composition was not ideal for radiocarbon dating.
Kosintsev and his colleagues decided to follow the odd dimension with several lines of evidence. Team fulfilled radiocarbon dating on 23 E. sibiricum The samples extracted DNA from six specimens and conducted an ecological assessment of rhinoceros habitat from fossil and geological data.
Samples date from 39,000 to 50,000 years, a period associated with the emergence of anatomically modern humans through Eurasia. This also coincides with the late Quaternary extinction event, a period that lasted from 50,000 to 4,000 years ago, and included dramatic climate change. According to the study, approximately 40 percent of northern Eurasian mammals weighing more than 45 kilograms (100 pounds) died out during this climate event.
There is a heated debate about the extent to which natural climate change or human pressure has pushed some of these species to the edge.
Read more: This ecologist finds the key to the survival of anthropocene extinctions during the extinction of the ice age
To inform about the effects of climate change on the Siberian unicorn, the researchers conducted an isotopic analysis E. sibiricum dental fossils to restore his likely food sources, and found that these animals were highly specialized steppe granaries. Eurasian herbivores with more diversified diets, such as the saiga antelope, survived the climate change that occurred 40,000 years ago. But as the grasslands diminished from these failures, the Siberian unicorn may have been slowly decreasing.
There is always the possibility that humans may have played their part in the final end of this animal. But E. sibiricum rarely depicted in the art of human caves, and since this period there are no records of his bones in human settlements, therefore, according to a study, these two species probably interacted little.
Nevertheless, it is surprising to think that people witnessed the last days of the Siberian unicorn, one of the most majestic megafauns of the Pleistocene period.
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