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Humans off the hook for woolly rhino extinction — study

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In a published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, researchers detail how they sequenced DNA from the remains of 14 woolly rhinos, Coelodonta antiquitatis, and determined that climate change — not the spread of humans — is actually what ended the woolly rhino.

The woolly rhinoceros is the less-famous counterpart to fellow mega-herbivore, the woolly mammoth. The prehistoric animals’ shared namesake, a thick coat of fur, is a survival trait that came in handy during their Late Pleistocene reign in northern Eurasia.

For the woolly rhino, however, being well-adapted to cold climates was likely part of what triggered the downfall of the species, a new genetic analysis shows.

As the Ice Age ended, early humans began to spread across the globe, and the woolly rhinoceros and mammoth each went extinct. Previously, researchers hypothesized that Homo sapiens over-hunted the megafauna, leading to their demise.

In a published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, researchers detail how they sequenced DNA from the remains of 14 woolly rhinos, Coelodonta antiquitatis, and determined that climate change — not the spread of humans — is actually what ended the woolly rhino.

Researchers that humans appeared in northern Siberia — where the samples are from — around the same time the woolly rhino went extinct, 14,000 or 15,000 years ago. But recent evidence suggests humans were in the area more than 30,000 years ago. Because their intrusion on rhino territory didn’t seem to line up with the animals’ demise, this team decided to investigate.

“If anything, we actually see something looking a bit like an increase in population size during this period,” senior study author , a professor at the , .

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