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Elevated δ15N values in mammoths: a comparison with modern elephants

Abstract

The extinct Pleistocene woolly mammoth bone collagen shows compared with collagen from other contemporaneous large herbivores remarkably high δ15N values. In order to investigate if the observed discrepancy in δ15N values between Pleistocene woolly mammoths and coeval large ungulates also exists in modern relatives, we investigated the δ15N (and δ13C) values in nails of modern proboscideans, rhinoceroses and horses kept in captivity and with a comparable forage. The results of this study show that the nails of the different modern herbivores, supplied with similar diet, have more or less identical δ15N values, so elephants do not show higher δ15N values. How to explain the high values in Pleistocene mammoths? Two different options will be discussed.