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Mastodons and Mammoths were Homebodies?

Jul 23, 2014 09:07 AM EDT

It turns out that mammoths and mastodons were the hipsters of the Ice Age. These ancient proboscideans were homebodies, staying in one place rather than roaming like other ancient species, a new study suggests.

According to research from the University of Cincinnati, these famously fuzzy relatives of elephants liked living in Greater Cincinnati long before it was trendy - at the end of the last ice age.

They enjoyed the area so much, they rarely ever left - a lifestyle that contrasts the nomadic tendencies researchers had previously believed they had.

And based on the availability of food, these massive mammoths and mastodons had their preferred hangouts.

"I suspect that this was a pretty nice place to live, relatively speaking," lead author Brooke Crowley said in a statement, speaking of the Last Glacial Maximum's major ice sheet. "Our data suggest that animals probably had what they needed to survive here year-round."

To see just how far these prehistoric animals did or did not roam, Crowley and colleagues looked to the wisdom in teeth, specifically museum specimens of molars from four mastodons and eight mammoths from Southwestern Ohio and Northwestern Kentucky. Amazingly, they could tell from the stable carbon, oxygen and strontium isotopic signatures in the tooth enamel an animal's diet, the climate conditions of its environment, and how far the animal traveled, respectively.

Their analysis found that all but one of the studied animals were less migratory and more stationary than previously thought. Mammoths preferred to be closer to the retreating ice sheet where grasses were more abundant, whereas mastodons fed farther from the ice sheet in more preferred forested habitat.

"There are regionally different stories going on," Crowley said. "There's not one overarching theme that we can say about a mammoth or a mastodon. And that's becoming more obvious in studies people are doing in different places."

The researchers say that this information could possibly help in conservation efforts for African and Asian elephants, mastodon and mammoth modern-day cousins. Both of these species are currently on the World Wildlife Fund's endangered species list. Knowing how these types of animals may have behaved in the past could provide valuable information useful for protecting these largest of land mammals from poaching and habitat destruction.

The study's findings were published in the journal Boreas.

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