Genome-Based Sexing Provides Clues about Behavior and Social Structure in the Woolly Mammoth.

Pečnerová P, Díez-Del-Molino D, Dussex N, Feuerborn T, von Seth J, van der Plicht J, Nikolskiy P, Tikhonov A, Vartanyan S, Dalén L

Curr. Biol. 27 (22) 3505-3510.e3 [2017-11-20; online 2017-11-02]

While present-day taxa are valuable proxies for understanding the biology of extinct species, it is also crucial to examine physical remains in order to obtain a more comprehensive view of their behavior, social structure, and life histories [1, 2]. For example, information on demographic parameters such as age distribution and sex ratios in fossil assemblages can be used to accurately infer socioecological patterns (e.g., [3]). Here we use genomic data to determine the sex of 98 woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) specimens in order to infer social and behavioral patterns in the last 60,000 years of the species' existence. We report a significant excess of males among the identified samples (69% versus 31%; p < 0.0002). We argue that this male bias among mammoth remains is best explained by males more often being caught in natural traps that favor preservation. We hypothesize that this is a consequence of social structure in proboscideans, which is characterized by matriarchal hierarchy and sex segregation. Without the experience associated with living in a matriarchal family group, or a bachelor group with an experienced bull, young or solitary males may have been more prone to die in natural traps where good preservation is more likely.

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National Genomics Infrastructure [Service]

PubMed 29103934

DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2017.09.064

Crossref 10.1016/j.cub.2017.09.064

pii: S0960-9822(17)31264-2

Publications 9.5.0