New results of fossil analysis will help scientists to understand why the camels went extinct 13,000 years ago and to re-examine other species
Miners in north-western Canada have discovered ice age camel bones whose DNA is forcing scientists to redraw the family tree of the now-extinct species.
Radiocarbon dating suggests they only migrated into the far north — Alaska and Yukon — during a brief period about 100,000 years ago, when temperatures were warmer than usual. Few camels made the trip North, and finding camel fossils in the Arctic is extremely rare.
Those that are found, though, are often preserved in permafrost, allowing their DNA to be studied by researchers.
Yukon paleontologist Grant Zazula says for decades, scientists have thought that ice age camels found in the Klondike gold fields were closely related to alpacas and llamas.
But new genetic results, allowed by examining fossils found in a gold mine near Dawson City, confirm they were actually much more closely aligned to the living camel species of Asia and Africa.
“With ancient DNA and genetic technologies now, we can actually reveal a whole lot more about their history, and sometimes animals that look like one another may not be even closely related at all,” says Zazula. “And that’s what we’re discovering with this.”
Grant Zazula says the research re-writes the evolutionary history of the camel family.