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Climate change killed a Siberian unicorn, the study says

Conceptual art of Elasmotherium sibiricum. Image: W.S. Van der Merwe / Museum of Natural History

Weighing over £ 7,700 and sports, which is probably the largest rhino horn of all time, Elasmotherium sibiricum-popularly known as the "Siberian Unicorn" – must be an incredible view.

But in spite of this exquisite beauty of the rhino, little is known about it. This changed on Monday by posting a post in Nature ecology and development representing the first DNA analysis of Siberian unicorn fossils.

Led by Palestinian paleontologist Palestinian professor Paul Kosintsev, a team of researchers concluded that the Siberian unicorn died about 39,000 years ago, suggesting that modern humans and neanderthals shared Eurasia with this epic animal in recent years on Earth. Previous estimates have indicated that the rhino died 200,000 years ago.

Although humans have been involved in the extinction of many megafaun species, such as wolf mammoths and giant lizards, Kosintsev and his colleagues think that our ancestors have been held up by this rhinoceros and that climate change is probably the main factor in its extinction.

"It is unlikely that people's presence would be the cause of extinction," said co-author Chris Turney, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales. "The Siberian unicorn seems to have been hit hard by the beginning of the Eurasian ice age, when the collapse of the temperature has led to an increase in the amount of frozen land, a reduction in the hard, dry grasslands living there, and the impact on populations in a large area.

The traditional timetable for the extinction of Siberian unicorn was questioned for the first time E. sibiricum a skull discovered in Kazakhstan in 2016. The skull was dated 29,000 years ago, but measurements were considered unreliable because its collagen composition was not ideal for radiocarbon dating.

Kosintsev and his colleagues decided to follow a tiny measurement with a series of evidence. The team made a radiocarbon dating at 23 E. sibiricum specimens, extracted DNA from six specimens and carried out an ecological assessment of the rhino biotope from fossil and geological evidence.

The samples were dated from 39,000 to 50,000 years, a period associated with the occurrence of anatomically modern humans throughout Eurasia. This also coincides with the late quaternary extinction of the events that lasted 50,000 to 4,000 years ago, including dramatic climate change. Approximately 40 percent of North American mammals weighing more than 45 kilograms (100 pounds) died during this climatic event, according to a study.

There is an embarrassing debate about the extent to which natural climate change or human pressures have shifted some of these from the edge.

Read more: This ecologist finds traces of survival of anthropocenes at the time of the ice age

To inform the impact of climate change on the Siberian unicorn, researchers carried out isotopic analysis E. sibiricum fossil teeth to reconstruct their probable food sources and find that these animals are highly specialized steppe pastures. Eurasian herbivores with a more diversified diet, such as the saiga antelope, survived the climate change that occurred 40,000 years ago. But because the grass was reduced from these disorders, the Siberian unicorn could be slowly bent to extinction.

There is always the possibility that people could play a role in the ultimate life of this animal. But E. sibiricum is rarely displayed in human cave art, and there are no records of bones in human settlements during this period, so these two species probably did not manage much.

Yet it is amazing to think that people are around to witness the last days of the Siberian unicorn, one of the most important megafaunas of the Pleistocene.

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