Saber-toothed cats, mastodons, giant sloths, woolly rhinos, and many other big, shaggy mammals are widely thought to have died out around the end of the last ice age, some 10,500 years ago.
More recently, however, evidence has emerged that at least two of the spectacular megafauna of the Pleistocene era (1.6 million to 10,000 years ago) clung on until recent times.
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Now a new study, published tomorrow in the science journal Nature, suggests that another striking mammal, the Irish elk, likewise lived way beyond the last ice age.
Money quote: Writing independently in tomorrow's Nature, biologists John Pastor and Ron Moen state: "The [Irish elk] finding lends weight to the idea that there is no one explanation for the so-called Pleistocene extinctions."
Alongside climate fluctuations and vegetation changes, they say, human activity, competing species, and other ecological pressures need to be taken into account for each animal.
Lister said, "Whereas people have been looking for single blanket explanation to account for all these species going extinct, we're saying you've got a range of species with different ecologies and adaptations."
This is precisely what needs to be done. Detailed records for the distributions of animal and human populations need to be produced before a cause(s) can be assigned for the extinction of individual species or genus.