Fifty thousand years of Arctic vegetation and megafaunal diet


Eske Willerslev, University of Copenhagen
John Davison, University of Tartu
Mari Moora, University of Tartu
Martin Zobel, University of Tartu
Eric Coissac, University Joseph Fourier
Mary E. Edwards, University of Southampton
Eline D. Lorenzen, University of Copenhagen
Mette Vestergard, University of Copenhagen
Galina Gussarova, University of Oslo
James Haile, University of Copenhagen
Joseph Craine, Kansas State University
Ludovic Gielly, University Joseph Fourier
Sanne Boessenkool, University of Oslo
Laura S. Epp, University of Oslo
Peter B. Pearman, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL
Rachid Cheddadi, Universite Montpellier
David Murray, University of Alaska Museum of the North
Kari A. Brathen, Arctic University of Norway
Nigel Yoccoz, Arctic University of Norway
Heather Binney, University of Southampton
Corinne Cruaud, Institut de Genomique du Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique (CEA)
Patrick Wincker, Institut de Genomique du Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique (CEA)
Tomasz Goslar, Adam Mickiewicz University
Inger Greve Alsos, Tromso University Museum
Eva Bellemain, University of Oslo
Anne Krag Brysting, University of Oslo
Reidar Elven, University of Oslo
Jorn Henrik Sonstebo, University of Oslo
Julian Murton, University of Sussex
Andrei Sher, Russian Academy of Sciences
Morten Rasmussen, University of Copenhagen
Regin Ronn, Universitetsparken
Tobias Mourier, University of Copenhagen
Alan Cooper, University of Adelaide
Jeremy Austin, University of Adelaide
Per Moller, Lund University
Duane G. Froese, University of Alberta
Grant Zazula, Department of Tourism and Culture, Yukon Territory
Francois Pompanon, University Joseph Fourier
Delphine Rioux, University Joseph Fourier
Vincent Niderkorn, INRA, France
Alexei Tikhonov, Russian Academy of Sciences
Grigoriy Savvinov, North-Eastern Federal University
Richard G. Roberts, University of WollongongFollow
Ross D. E MacPhee, American Museum of Natural History
M. Thomas P. Gilbert, University of Copenhagen,Murdoch University
Kurt H. K, University of Copenhagen
Ludovic Orlando, University of Copenhagen
Christian Brochmann, University of Oslo
Pierre Taberlet, University Joseph Fourier



Publication Details

Willerslev, E., Davison, J., Moora, M., Zobel, M., Coissac, E., Edwards, M. E., Lorenzen, E. D., Vestergard, M., Gussarova, G., Haile, J., Craine, J., Gielly, L., Boessenkool, S., Epp, L. S., Pearman, P. B., Cheddadi, R., Murray, D., Brathen, K. A., Yoccoz, N., Binney, H., Cruaud, C., Wincker, P., Goslar, T., Alsos, I., Bellemain, E., Brysting, A. Krag., Elven, R., Sonstebo, J. Henrik., Murton, J., Sher, A., Rasmussen, M., Ronn, R., Mourier, T., Cooper, A., Austin, J., Moller, P., Froese, D. G., Zazula, G., Pompanon, F., Rioux, D., Niderkorn, V., Tikhonov, A., Savvinov, G., Roberts, R. G., MacPhee, R. D. E., Gilbert, M. P., Kjær, K. H., Orlando, L., Brochmann, C. & Taberlet, P. (2014). Fifty thousand years of Arctic vegetation and megafaunal diet. Nature, 506 (7486), 47-51.


Although it is generally agreed that the Arctic flora is among the youngest and least diverse on Earth, the processes that shaped it are poorly understood. Here we present 50 thousand years (kyr) of Arctic vegetation history, derived from the first large-scale ancient DNA metabarcoding study of circumpolar plant diversity. For this interval we also explore nematode diversity as a proxy for modelling vegetation cover and soil quality, and diets of herbivorous megafaunal mammals, many of which became extinct around 10 kyr bp (before present). For much of the period investigated, Arctic vegetation consisted of dry steppe-tundra dominated by forbs (non-graminoid herbaceous vascular plants). During the Last Glacial Maximum (25-15 kyr bp), diversity declined markedly, although forbs remained dominant. Much changed after 10 kyr bp, with the appearance of moist tundra dominated by woody plants and graminoids. Our analyses indicate that both graminoids and forbs would have featured in megafaunal diets. As such, our findings question the predominance of a Late Quaternary graminoid-dominated Arctic mammoth steppe.

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