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Evolution and dispersal of mammoths across the Northern Hemisphere

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Science  13 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6262, pp. 805-809
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac5660

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Moving mammoths

Mammoths are a particularly charismatic example of our Pleistocene megafuana. Lister and Sher took a detailed look at mammoth fossils globally and suggest that the North American Columbian mammoth, thought to have arisen from a European species, probably evolved from a more advanced Asian species. Similar dispersal events of Asian mammoths led to later colonization events in Europe and North America.

Science, this issue p. 805

Abstract

Mammoths provide a detailed example of species origins and dispersal, but understanding has been impeded by taxonomic confusion, especially in North America. The Columbian mammoth Mammuthus columbi was thought to have evolved in North America from a more primitive Eurasian immigrant. The earliest American mammoths (1.5 million years ago), however, resemble the advanced Eurasian M. trogontherii that crossed the Bering land bridge around that time, giving rise directly to M. columbi. Woolly mammoth M. primigenius later evolved in Beringia and spread into Europe and North America, leading to a diversity of morphologies as it encountered endemic M. trogontherii and M. columbi, respectively. In North America, this included intermediates (“M. jeffersonii”), suggesting introgression of M. primigenius with M. columbi. The lineage illustrates the dynamic interplay of local adaptation, dispersal, and gene flow in the evolution of a widely distributed species complex.

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