The collapse of the Mammoth Steppe ecosystem


During the Late Pleistocene the environment of the the northern territories of Eurasia, ranging from Western Europe to Alaska, was generally open, tending toward steppic. It is known as the Mammoth Steppe, a biotope remarkable for its unusual combination of mammal species when compared to the present-day distribution. The ecosystem of the Mammoth Steppe collapsed during the period that marks the Pleistocene ? Holocene transition and was replaced by the modern tundra, taiga, and steppe belts of Eurasia. The Mammoth Steppe was very productive and characterised by a very diverse flora and fauna with a large variety in species. During the Pleistocene ? Holocene transition a drastic rearrangement of its floral and faunal components occurred and led to a marked change in the distribution of species. The geographical ranges of several species shrank and many became regionally extinct, whereas others disappeared completely. It was the time when species such as giant deer, woolly mammoth, and woolly rhinoceros became extinct after having survived many climatic changes during several hundreds of thousands of years. It is also the period during which humans spread into Northern Siberia and crossed Beringia on their way to America.
The present project will focus on the collapse or disintegration of the Mammoth Steppe ecosystem at the level of faunal assemblages as well as at species level. Our goal is to create a database and analyse the faunal data (particularly mammalian data) that characterise the Mammoth Steppe environment using well (14C) dated faunas from the time span ranging from 40,000 to 8,000 years ago collected in the artic region north of approximately 60°N latitude. The European data base, the result of the previous joint Russian-Dutch project, will be extended with data from North American and from Siberia. The Siberian data will be extracted from published articles (mainly in Russian language) and a large number of (unpublished) reports. The Siberian faunas which are not well dated will be dated by 14C in this project.
The extended data base will be analysed in the same way as the European data were before. The time span covered by the project will be subdivided into six different intervals, and the collected data relating to these intervals will be analysed mathematically. The mathematical analyses will yield maps showing the distribution of species and/or characteristic faunal communities for the different time intervals. Comparing these maps will clarify the chronology and dimensions of the changes the ecosystem underwent during the latest Pleistocene and the early Holocene. In addition, regional changes will be investigated in order to understand the processes that led to the collapse of the Mammoth Steppe.

The next step is to transfer our data into climate proxies. This includes stable isotope analysis of selected bone material. Correlation of our data with climate proxies from the northern territories as well as from adjacent areas, including the polar region (data collected within the framework of, e.g., the IPY), will be executed within the framework of APEX. APEX stands for the Arctic Palaeoclimate and its Extremes, a research programme developed by a group of international scientists from across Europe.

Keywords: mammalian faunas, northern hemisphere, arctic region, Quaternary palaeo-ecology, biodiversity, , 14C dating


Book or monography

  • J. Mol, A. Verpoorte, S. Bohncke, T. van Kolfschoten, A.N. Simakova, A. Yu. Puzachenko, I.B. Golovachev, P.A. Kosintsev, A.K. Markova, N.G. Smirnov(2008): Evolution of European ecosystems during Pleistocene -Holocene transition (24 - 8 kyr BP) pp. 556

Chapter in book

  • A.K. Markova, V. Chabai, J. Richter, T Uthmeier(2008): Kabazi V: Interstratification of Micoquian & Levallois ? Mousterian camp sites. Palaeolithic sites of Crimea pp. 69 - 87
  • K. Post, R. Bakker, J. van der Plicht, D. Mol, J. Glimmerveen, J. de Vos, H. van der Plicht, B. van Geel(2008): Kleine encyclopedie van het leven in het Pleistoceen pp. 175 - 185
  • A.Yu. Puzachenko, E.V. Semashko, A.A. Tishkov, V.Yu. Semashko, A.K. Markova, A.E. Cherenkov, P.M. Glazov, G.M. Tertitzky(2008): Environmental and climatic changes pp. 234 - 250 , Moscow
  • V.M. Zakharov, A. Pavlov, A.K. Markova, A.Yu Puzachenko(2008): Climate Change and Biodiversity in Russia. Potential threat pp. 69 - 88
  • O. Tel'nova, D. Ponomarev, P. Beznosov, V.V. Lukin, V. Tsyganko, V. Tsyganko, D. Sobolev, L. Andreicheva, T. Marchenko-Vagapova, T. Beznosova, N. Il’ina, L. Sel'kova, Y. Golubeva, D. Ponomarev, L. Andreicheva(2008): Stratisphere of Nothern Eurasia, evolution of organic world in Phanerozoe and paleoecosystems modelling , Syktyvkar
  • A.K. Markova, A.A Velichko, G.F. Baryshnikov(2009): Paleoclimates and paleolandscapes of extra-tropical part of Northern Hemisphere pp. 79 - 87 , Moscow
  • T.V. Krakhmalnaya, P. Kosintsev, P.A. Kosinsev(2009): Fauna and flora of the Northern Eurasia in the Late Cainozoic pp. 80 - 92
  • L.A. Timokhov, J. Thiede, I.A. Starodubtseva, A.P. Lisitzin, T.V. Kuznetsova, H. Kassens, Ye.I. Polyakova, I.E. Frolov(2009): System of the Laptev Sea and the adjacent Arctic Seas. Modern and past environments pp. 481 - 500 , Moscow
  • A. Puzachenko, T. van Kolfschoten, A. Markova, P.A. Kosintsev(2009): Faunas and floras of Northern Eurasia in Late Cainozoic pp. 7 - 24 , Yekaterinburg- Chelyabinsk
  • P.A. Kosinsev, O. Bachura(2009): Fauna and flora of the Northern Eurasia in the Late Cainozoic pp. 34 - 70
  • A.K. Markova, T. van Kolfschoten, P.A. Kosinsev, A. Yu Puzachenko(2009): Fauna and flora of the Northern Eurasia in the Late Cainozoic pp. 92 - 108

Scientific article

  • I. Kryazheva, D. Ponomarev(2008): Remains of Late Pleistocene and Holocene small mammals from Sed?u 1, 2 localities (Southern Timan Ridge) Vestnik of Institute of Geology, Syktyvkar pp. 15 - 18
  • L.A. Orlova, Ya. V. Kuz'min, S.K. Vasil'ev, P. Kosintsev(2008): New Data on the Time and Place of Extinction of the Woolly Rhinoceros Coelodonta antiquitatis Blumenbach, 1799. Doklady Biological Sciences pp. 133 - 135
  • A. Puzachenko, S.V. Zagrebelny(2008): Variability of the skulls in the Polar fox subspecies: Alopex lagopus beringensis, A. l. semenovi and A.l. lagopus Zoologichesky Zhumal pp. 1106 - 1123
  • M. Th. Gilbert, et al(2008): Intraspecific Phylogenetic Analysis of Siberian Woolly Mammoths Using Complete Mitochondrial Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America pp. 8327 - 8332 ISSN: 0027-8424.
  • A.Yu. Puzachenko, A.K. Markova, A.N. Simakova(2008): Ecosystems of Eastern Europe at the time of maximum cooling at the Valdai glaciation (24 to 18 ka BP) inferred from data on plant communities and mammal assemblages Quaternary International
  • M.R. Palombo, M. Barbieri, T. Kuznetsova, V. Nikolaev(2008): Strontium isotopic composition in late Pleistocene mammal bones from the Yakutian Region (North-Eastern Siberia). Quaternary International pp. 72 - 78 ISSN: Quaternary Inte.
  • F. Kienast, L. Schirrmeister, V. Kunitsky, H. Meyer, G. Grosse, D. Magens, F. Preusser, T. Kuznetsova, A. Andreev, A. Derivyagin, M. Grigoriev(2008): Periglacial landscape evolution and environmental changes of Arctic lowland areas during the Late Quaternary (Western Laptev Sea coast, Cape Mamontov Klyk). Polar Research pp. 249 - 272 ISSN: 0800-0395.
  • L. Andreicheva, D. Ponomarev, V. Tsyganko, T. Beznosova(2008): Stratisphere of Timan - North Uralian region: history of biosystems, biostratigraphy, climate, history of study and prospects Vestnik of Institute of Geology, Syktyvkar pp. 7 - 14
  • E. Willerslev, A.N. Tikhonov, R.G. Roberts, L.J. Arnold, R.D.E. MacPhee, F. Brock(2008): Optical dating of perennially frozen deposits associated with preserved ancient plant and animal DNA in north-central Siberia Quaternary Geochronology pp. 114 - 136
  • W. Rosendahl, I. Barnes, R. Barnett, G. Baryshnikov, A. Cooper, A. Sher, R. Harington, B. Shapiro, J. Burger, L. Martin, H. Wheeler, M. Sotnikova, J. Burns, S. Ho, T. Kuznetsova, N. Yamaguchi, Th. Higham(2009): Phylogeography of lions (Panthera leo ssp.) reveals three distinct taxa and a late Pleistocene reduction in genetic diversity Molecular Ecology pp. 1668 - 1677
  • H. Meyer, F. Kienast, V.V. Kunitsky, A. Bryantseva, S.A. Kuzmina, G. Grosse, A.A. Bobrov, P.E. Tarasov, A.A. Andreev, T.V. Kuznetsova, L. Schirrmeister, E. Novenko(2009): Weichselian and Holocene palaeoenvironmental history of the Bol'shoy Lyakhovsky Island, New Siberian, Arctic Siberia Boreas pp. 72 - 110
  • A.N. Simakova, A.K. Markova, A.Yu. Puzachenko(2009): Ecosystems of Eastern Europe at the time of maximum cooling of the Valdai glaciation (24?18 kyr BP) inferred from data on plant communities and mammal assemblages Quaternary International pp. 53 - 59
  • A.A. Nikonov, J. van der Plicht(2010): The First Radiocarbon Data of Bone Remains of Mammoth Faunal Forms in Northwestern Russia Doklady Akademii Nauk pp. 120-123-
  • A.K. Markova, D.V. Ponomarev, M. van Kolfschoten, J. van der Plicht, A.Yu Puzachenko(2010): New Data on the Dynamics of the Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) distribution in Europe in the second half of the Late Pleistocene?Holocene Doklady Earth Sciences pp. 547 - 550
  • (2010): The North Eurasian mammal assemblages during the end of MIS 3 (Brianskian–Late Karginian–Denekamp Interstadial) Quaternary International pp. N 212
  • P.F. Campos, T. Kristensen, M.V. Klolodova, M. Hofreiter, A.N. Tikhonov, M.T.P. Gilbert, L. Orlando, A. Gotherstorm, P. Kosintsev, D.G. Drucker, E. Willerslev, A. Sher, G.F. Baryshnikov(2010): DNA sequences point to large loss of mitochondrial genetic diversity in saiga antilope (Saiga tatarica) since the Pleistocene. Molecular Ecology pp. 4863 - 4875
  • M. Suchard, G. Zazula, E. Axelsson, P. Kosintsev, T. Krakhmalnaya, R.-D. Kahlke, B. Shapiro, P. Campos, Ch. Norris, A. Sher, A. Greenwood, M.T.P. Gilbert, R. MacPhee, E. Willerslev, A. Tikhonov, T. Kuznetsova, Ph lemey, K. Shepard(2010): Climate rather than humans, as the driving force behind late Pleistocene musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) population dynamics PNAS pp. 5675 - 5680
  • P. Iacumin, A. Di Mattteo, T.V. Kuznetsova, V. Nikolaev(2010): Climate information from C, N and O stable isotope analyses of mammoth bones from northern Siberia Quaternary International pp. 206 - 212
  • P.A. Kosintsev, J. van der Plicht, A.N. Tikhonov, E.G. Lapteva, S.S. Trofimova, O.G. Zanina(2010): The contents of intestine mammoth baby (Mammuthus primigenius Blumenbach, 1799) from Yuribey River (Yamal Peninsula). Doklady RAS pp. 556 - 558


Project number


Main applicant

Prof. dr. Th. van Kolfschoten

Affiliated with

Universiteit Leiden, Faculteit der Archeologie

Team members

Mw. T. Kuznetsova, Prof. dr. ir. J. van der Plicht, Dhr. A. Puzachenko, Dhr. A. Tikhonov, Mw. O. Bachura, V. Ponomarev


01/10/2007 to 27/01/2011