Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, a unicorn. You might be thinking of a valiant steed descending from a rainbow with an elegant horn adorning his forehead, a kind of creature that would not look great in the "My Little Pony" franchise. Unfortunately, I'm here to burst your bubble: new research has revealed details about the origins and extinction of Elasmotherium sibiricum, also known as the "Siberian Unicorn". The reality is a little less "my little pony" and a rhino a little more massive and hairy, with a huge horn. And it turns out that the Siberian unicorn was another victim of climate change.
Posted in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the research presented the first DNA analysis of fossils of the Siberian unicorn, now extinct. The international team of researchers from Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Russia has discovered that E. sibiricum it's off much later than we thought, which would have been 200,000 years ago. Thanks to the genetic analyzes of 23 bone specimens of the species, the researchers estimate that E. sibiricum survived in areas such as Eastern Europe and Central Asia until at least 39,000 years ago. This calendar suggests that early humans and modern Neanderthals coexisted with the species in their later years on Earth.
The majestic creatures have traveled all over Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and northern modern China. The unicorn was also considered the last surviving member of its subfamily rhinoceros, making the Siberian unicorn and white rhinoceros more distant cousins than humans are monkeys, said the co-author of the study, Dr. Kieren Mitchell.
Scientists believe that this extinction was due, in part, to the loss of habitat of the Siberian unicorn, steppe steppe – a loss caused by climate change. The animals used hard, dry grass as a staple, and as the Earth warmed, many of these grassland habitats began to shrink, which researchers say contributed to its extinction. .
"It's unlikely that human presence is a cause of extinction," said Chris Turney, co-author of this study, climate scientist at the University of New South Wales, in a statement. "The Siberian unicorn appears to have been severely affected by the beginning of the ice age in Eurasia, when a precipitous drop in temperature caused an increase in the amount of frozen soil, reducing the hard and dry grasses on which it lived and affected. populations of a vast area. "
Today, there are five species of rhinos that have survived and, although the Siberian unicorn is no longer there, the study of its extinction is useful to find ways to help save the last rhinoceros of the planet . Professor Adrian Lister of the Natural History Museum in London, one of the study's leaders, told BBC News that modern rhinos are particularly at risk of extinction because of the timidity of their habitat.
"Any change in their environment is a danger to them," Lister told BBC News. "And, of course, what we also learned from the fossil record, is that once a species is gone, it's over, it disappears for good." "