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Mammoth vertebral abnormality hints at reasons for extinction

A common vertebral abnormality in the spines of woolly mammoths found in what is now the North Sea hints at reasons why the woolly mammoth became extinct according to research conducted by Jelle Reumer from the Rotterdam Museum of Natural History and Clara ten Broek and Frietson Galis from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden published in the journal PeerJ on March 25, 2014.

The arrow indicates a large articulation facet of a cervical rib on a fossil cervical vertebra of a woolly mammoth of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam.
Credit: Joris van Alphen Usage Restrictions: None

The mammoth specimens dredged from the North Sea date to the latest existence of woolly mammoths on Earth.

Thirty-three percent of the mammoths exhibited an arch on the cervical (neck) vertebrae. This anomaly is only seen in about three percent of modern elephants.

An arch on the vertebrae is an indication of inbreeding in a diminishing population, cold, lack of food, and disease or a combination of these factors. The arch developed in the embryo of the mammoths indicating a long term set of conditions that led to the mammoth’s ultimate extinction.

Similar reproductive stress has been seen to result in higher numbers of modern animals being born with arches on their cervical vertebrae in some locations where food is scarce and environment is changing or disappearing.

This is the strongest evidence found to date that indicates how and when the woolly mammoth became extinct.