Mammal extinction facilitated biome shift and human population change during the last glacial termination in East-Central Europe

Sci Rep. 2022 Apr 26;12(1):6796. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-10714-x.


The study of local extinction times, together with the associated environmental and human population changes in the last glacial termination, provides insights into the causes of mega- and microfauna extinctions. In East-Central (EC) Europe, groups of Palaeolithic humans were present throughout the last glacial maximum, but disappeared suddenly around 15,200 cal BP. In this study cave sediment profiles dated using radiocarbon techniques and a large set of mammal bones dated directly by AMS 14C were used to determine local extinction times. These were, in turn, compared to changes in the total megafauna population of EC Europe derived from coprophilous fungi, the Epigravettian population decline, quantitative climate models, pollen and plant macrofossil inferred climate, as well as to biome reconstructions. The results suggest that the population size of large herbivores decreased in the area after 17,700 cal BP, when temperate tree abundance and warm continental steppe cover both increased in the lowlands. Boreal forest expansion started around 16,200 cal BP. Cave sediments show the decline of narrow-headed vole and arctic lemming populations specifically associated with a tundra environment at the same time and the expansion of the common vole, an inhabitant of steppes. The last dated appearance of arctic lemming was at ~ 16,640 cal BP, while that of the narrow-headed vole at ~ 13,340, and the estimated extinction time of woolly mammoth was either at 13,830 (GRIWM) or 15,210 (PHASE), and reindeer at 11,860 (GRIWM) or 12,550 cal BP (PHASE). The population decline of the large herbivore fauna slightly preceded changes in terrestrial vegetation, and likely facilitated it via a reduction in the intensity of grazing and the concomitant accumulation of plant biomass. Furthermore, it is possible to conclude that the Late Epigravettian population had high degree of quarry-fidelity; they left the basin when these mammals vanished.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arvicolinae
  • Climate
  • Ecosystem*
  • Humans
  • Mammals
  • Mammoths*
  • Tundra