Between 15,000 and 11,000 years ago, large animals like the woolly mammoth, giant sloth and sabre-toothed cat disappeared around the globe, primarily in what is now Siberia, Europe, and North and South America.
What caused this mass extinction is unclear but most scientists now believe that a combination of climate change and hunting was responsible, says Osborne.
A team of scientists led by Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide recently analyzed the teeth and bones of these large animals, also known as herbivorous megafauna, in order to understand the impact of environmental change on these species.
They discovered that a “thawing permafrost and melting glaciers led to a dramatic increase in landscape moisture,” notes Osborne, which turned grasslands into bogs and forced the megafauna populations to fragment — in Eurasia and the Americas, as well as in Africa, though less so—and eventually die out.
“The idea of moisture-driven extinctions is really exciting because it can also explain why Africa is so different, with a much lower rate of megafaunal extinctions and many species surviving to this day,” Cooper said in a statement.