Mycological evidence of coprophagy from the feces of an Alaskan Late Glacial mammoth

Bas van Geel, R. Dale Guthrie, Jens G. Altmann, Peter Broekens, Ian D. Bull, Fiona L Gill, Boris Jansen, Aline M. Nieman, Barbara Gravendeel

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Dung from a mammoth was preserved under frozen conditions in Alaska. The mammoth lived during the early part of the late Glacial interstadial (ca 12,300 BP). Microfossils, macroremains and ancient DNA from the dung were studied and the chemical composition was determined to reconstruct both the paleoenvironment and paleobiology of this mammoth. Pollen spectra are dominated by Poaceae. Artemisia and other light-demanding taxa, indicating an open, treeless landscape ('mammoth steppe'). Fruits and seeds support this conclusion. The dung consists mainly of cyperaceous stems and leaves, with a minor component of vegetative remains of Poaceae. Analyses of fragments of the plastid rbcL gene and trnL intron and nrITS1 region, amplified from DNA extracted from the dung, supplemented the microscopic identifications. Many fruit bodies with ascospores of the coprophilous fungus Podospora conica were found inside the dung ball, indicating that the mammoth had eaten dung. The absence of bile acids points to mammoth dung. This is the second time that evidence for coprophagy of mammoths has been derived from the presence of fruit bodies of coprophilous fungi in frozen dung. Coprophagy might well have been a common habit of mammoths. Therefore, we strongly recommend that particular attention should be given to fungal remains in future fossil dung studies. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2289-2303
Number of pages15
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number17-18
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011

Cite this

van Geel, B., Guthrie, R. D., Altmann, J. G., Broekens, P., Bull, I. D., Gill, F. L., Jansen, B., Nieman, A. M., & Gravendeel, B. (2011). Mycological evidence of coprophagy from the feces of an Alaskan Late Glacial mammoth. Quaternary Science Reviews, 30(17-18), 2289-2303.