Scientists have been attempting to know why the wooly mammoths, cave lions, short-faced bears and other megafauna of the last ice age went extinct around 11,000 years ago. New study now suggests that rapid climate-warming events could be blamed for the extinction of these species.

For the new study published in the journal Science on Thursday, scientists have found that the abrupt climate changes over the course of the Late Pleistocene era, which goes back at least 50 years ago, could explain the disappearance of the large mammals.

The researchers compared the data on the extinction of megafaunal species with records of severe climate events and found an association between the extinction of the large animals and warming events.

"By combining these two records, we can place the climate and radiocarbon dating data on the same timescale, thereby allowing us to precisely align the dated fossils against climate," said study author Alan Cooper, from the University of Adelaide in Australia. "The high-resolution view we gained through this approach clearly showed a strong relationship between warming events and megafaunal extinctions."

The events, known as interstadials or short warming period, occurred during the era and marked by an increase in temperature anywhere from 4 to 16˚C in a matter of a few decades but once this occurred, the planet would stay warm for up to thousands of years.

The researchers said that the megafauna of the period likely found it hard to survive in the hot conditions possibly because of the effects these had on the animals' prey and habitats. Cooper said that interstadials caused dramatic changes in rainfall and vegetation patterns.

The researchers acknowledged that ancient humans also had a role in the extinction of the megafauna but this was a smaller one. Cooper said that by disrupting the environments of the animals, human societies and hunting parties may have possibly made it more difficult for megafauna to migrate to new area and to refill those that were once populated by creatures that had gone extinct.

Study author Professor Chris Turney from the University of New South Wales said it is crucial to recognize man's role in the disappearance of the megafaunal species.

"The abrupt warming of the climate caused massive changes to the environment that set the extinction events in motion, but the rise of humans applied the coup de grâce to a population that was already under stress," Turney said.

Photo: Sarah Murray | Flickr

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