Thursday, 29 November 2012

Ice Age warmth wiped out lemmings, study finds

Lemmings became "regionally extinct" five times due to rapid climate change during the last Ice Age, scientists have found.

Each extinction was followed by a re-colonisation of genetically different lemmings, according to the study.

It investigated how Europe's small mammals fared during the era when large numbers of megafauna became extinct.

Previously, experts believed that small mammals were largely unaffected during the Late Pleistocene.

But when the international research team analysed ancient DNA sequences from fossilised remains of collared lemmings (Dicrostonyx torquarus) from cave sites in Belgium, they were surprised by the results.

"What we'd expected is that there'd be pretty much just a single population that was there all the way through," said research team member Dr Ian Barnes from the school of biological sciences at Royal Holloway University in Surrey.

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