Siberian Unicorn Once Lived Alongside Humans

Posted: Nov 30 2018, 8:56pm CST | by , in Latest Science News


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Siberian Unicorn Once Lived Alongside Humans
Artist’s impression of Siberian unicorn. Credit: W. S. Van der Merwe/Natural History Museum

Genetic analysis shows that climate change, not humans, wiped out giant Ice Age rhinoceros.

Researchers have ruled out humans as the possible cause of extinction of giant, furry rhinoceros that appeared in the Ice Age and had a distinctive long horn on their nose.

Until now, the long-horned rhinoceros known as the Siberian unicorn were thought to have died out around 200,000 years ago, but a DNA analysis reveals that they may have survived until around 36,000 years ago, overlapping a time period in which earliest humans lived in the area.

The new study has wider significance because it not only has settled a long-standing debate about extinction of Siberian Unicorn, but it also helped reveal how Siberian unicorn were linked to their modern counterparts.

"It is unlikely that the presence of humans was the cause of extinction,” said study co-author Professor Chris Turney, climate scientist at the University of New South Wales. "The Siberian unicorn appears to have been badly hit by the start of the ice age in Eurasia when a precipitous fall in temperature led to an increase in the amount of frozen ground, reducing the tough, dry grasses it lived on and impacting populations over a vast region."

Weighing up to four tons and standing around two meters tall, Siberian unicorn (Elasmotherium sibiricum) once roamed the grasslands of Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Northern China. The animal was presumed to have become extinct well before the last Ice Age, around 200,000 years ago.

However, genetic analyses performed at the University of Adelaide's Australian Center for Ancient DNA have shown that the Siberian unicorn was the last member of a unique family of rhinos and that the species survived much later than previously believed.

In the latest study, researchers for the first time conducted DNA analysis of 23 Siberian unicorn bone specimens and found that animal may have existed at least 39,000 years ago and possibly as late as 35,000 years ago, confirming that they shared their final days with modern humans.

This new genetic evidence also dismisses the idea that the Siberian unicorn was a very close relative of the extinct woolly rhino and living Sumatran rhino. Today only five species of rhinos are left. In the past there have been as many as 250 species.

"The ancestors of the Siberian unicorn split from the ancestors of all living rhinos over 40 million years ago," said co-author Dr. Kieren Mitchell, who analyzed the DNA of the Siberian unicorn. "That makes the Siberian unicorn and the African white rhino even more distant cousins than humans are to monkeys."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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