Found in Ice Age sediments in northern Greenland, DNA has revealed startling details about a ancient ecosystem, one of a kind. The lush prehistoric environment may have also hosted the mastodona distant relative of mammoths.
Prior to this discovery, the oldest DNA had been recovered from a 1.2 million year old mammoth tooth. The new discovered samples, which have shattered the previous record by almost doubledate back to 2 million years ago and were not recovered from organic material, but from sediments trapped in the permafrost of a Greenland fjord.
Researchers have obtained from DNA the information of a unique ecosystem, impossible to find on the planet today. The ecosystem housed a mix of organisms from a temperate and arctic climateincluding reindeer, geese, hares, lemmings, horseshoe crabs and mastodons.
Mastodons were gods large mammals, similar to mammoths and elephants. They died out about 11,000 years ago, at the end of the Ice Age. Until now they were believed to have lived only in North and Central America, so the discovery of genetic material in a place as far north as Greenland was completely unexpected.
The scientists’ study also represents an important lesson for the future. The temperatures of the ancient ecosystem were significantly higher than we experience today. Because of this notable difference, the researchers believe it will be possible to better understand how current ecosystems will react to climate change.
“One of the fundamental factors is to what extent species will be able to adapt to change.” said Professor Mikkel W. Pedersen, co-author of the study. “The data suggests that more species than previously thought may be evolving and adapting to wildly different temperatures. But the crucial point is that they need time to do it. The speed of global warming means that organisms and species do not have that time available, so the climate emergency remains a major threat to biodiversity – extinction is on the horizon for many species, including plants and trees.”
According to the researchers, it is possible that some elements of the DNA of ancient plants could be used to make some species endangered more resilient to global warming. Despite this, scientists point out the importance of limiting global warming.