In Images: Ancient Beasts of the Arctic

Arctic beasts

(Image credit: Photo by Jonathan S. Blair/National Geographic)

A 2014 study in Nature has found that Arctic mega-beasts like the wooly mammoth may have grazed a much more varied landscape than previously thought.

Grassland steppe

mammoth-mastodon

(Image credit: Mauricio Anton)

Previously, researchers thought the Arctic looked like monolithic grassland steppe.

Permafrost cores

permafrost core

(Image credit: Ross MacPhee)

But by analyzing plant DNA in permafrost cores (like the one here from Talmyr, Siberia), the team found that many more wildflower-like plants called forbs were present at the time.

Flowery landscape

arctic

(Image credit: Mauricio Anton)

That suggests the landscape was filled with colorful blooms and a more varied flora than previously thought.

Mammoth tusk

mammoth tusk

(Image credit: Per Möller/Johanna Anjar)

The team also analyzed the gut contents of Pleistocene beasts and found they ate a higher proportion of forbs than thought.

High protein snacks

Tuolumne Meadows

(Image credit: M. Floyd, DOT)

These flowering plants could have provided high-protein, nutritious snacks for beast such as mammoths and rhinos .

Modern diet?

Bison covered in frost

(Image credit: Tim Townsend/US Department of the Interior)

The new results could also mean rethinking how much of different plant types that modern grazers, such as the bison, eat, researchers say.