Chemical analysis sheds light on mastodon migration •

A study of the University of Michigan used new technology to help determine the migration patterns of mastodons. By analyzing isotopes of a behemoth’s tusk, researchers determined it died in northeast Indiana, nearly 100 miles north of its home range during the cold season.

The study’s first author and paleoecologist at the University of Cincinnati, Joshua Miller, explained why this study is special. “The unique result of this study is that, for the first time, we have been able to document the annual overland migration of an individual of an extinct species.”

To explore the mastodon’s migration patterns, they used new isotopic technology and a new model developed by Miller and his colleagues, to analyze the growth rings found in the mastodon’s tusk. They were able to extrapolate where the animal was during adolescence and the last years of its adult life before its death at 34 years old.

“You have a lifetime stretched out before you in this defense,” said study co-lead author Daniel Fisher. this history is captured and recorded in the structure and composition of the defense.

So, some 13,200 years after its death, the Buesching juggernaut still had a story to tell. Researchers believe he remained close to the central Indiana matriarchal herd until he was a teenager.

Once on his own, he traveled more, clocking in at around 20 miles a month. The mastadon also seemed to move with the seasons, including its summer range in what is now northeast Indiana. Here they believe he was looking for companions.

“Every time you came to the warm season, the Buesching juggernaut would go to the same place – bam, bam, bam – repeatedly. The clarity of that signal was unexpected and really exciting,” Miller explained.

Researchers aim to get their hands on more behemoths in hopes of learning more about these ancient giants.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By Erin Moody , Personal editor