Academic journal article The Science Teacher

What Ice Age Mammals Can Teach Us

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

What Ice Age Mammals Can Teach Us

Article excerpt

The ghosts of Ice Age mammals can teach valuable, real-world lessons about what happens to an ecosystem when its most distinct species go extinct, according to a study.

Yale University researcher Matt Davis studied the roles of some of the world's largest mammals within their respective environments. On the plus side, Davis said, animals that survived the Ice Age, such as the beaver, proved to be just as distinct as those that did not survive. On the minus side, Davis found, our planet has reached a point where losing even a handful of key mammals will leave as much of a gap as all of the Ice Age mammal extinctions put together.

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The planet lost about 38% of its large-mammal, functional diversity (biological complexity) during the Ice Age. Those species included wooly mammoths, giant ground sloths, stout-legged llamas, and giant beavers.

"You can think of it like a big tent where every animal is holding a pole to keep the tent up," Davis said. "We lost a lot of species when humans first arrived in North America, so part of our tent fell down. Now we only have a few animals left holding up those poles. If they die, the whole tent could collapse. …

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