UCL News


UCL in the News: How forests wiped out woolly mammoths

16 December 2007

'The Daily Telegraph' Woolly mammoths were among the biggest mammals to have walked the earth, but it appears they were driven into extinction by nothing more dangerous than trees.

Professor Adrian Lister [UCL Biology] has found that the extensive areas of frozen grassland on which mammoths thrived were gradually replaced by forests, leaving the animals nothing to eat. …

It contrasts with previous theories that humans hunted the woolly beasts into extinction or that rising temperatures left them unable to cope. …

"In the middle of the last ice age, around 30,000 years ago, there were millions of mammoths roaming over a huge area," said Prof Lister. "Around 20,000 years later there were hardly any left.

"As the forests moved in, the mammoths were pushed out of their normal habitat. These animals are mostly governed by vegetation rather than climate and so they were squeezed into very small populations as the forests took over the cold grasslands.

"I don't think that people played a major role in wiping them out, although they may have pushed those final populations over the edge. The major impact factor was the change in the vegetation from grassland to trees."…