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Artist's impression of Elasmotherium sibiricum

An extinct rhinoceros’s picky eating habits probably contributed to its demise. Credit: Roman Uchytel

Palaeontology

Siberian ‘unicorns’ grazed Asia less than 40,000 years ago

Climate shifts may explain the extinction of grass-loving giant rhinoceros.

A 3,500-kilogram mammal nicknamed the Siberian unicorn for the long horn that jutted from its forehead became extinct surprisingly recently.

Elasmotherium sibiricum, a rhinoceros that roamed the steppes of central Asia, was the last surviving member of its subfamily. To determine when the species became extinct — an event previously estimated to have occurred 200,000 years ago — researchers led by Adrian Lister at the Natural History Museum in London applied radiocarbon dating to the remains of 23 individuals. This revealed that the most recent specimens may have died only 35,000 years ago.

The authors also analysed the fossils’ mitochondrial DNA, which is transmitted from mothers to their offspring. The DNA confirmed that E. sibiricum and its relatives last shared an ancestor with living rhinoceroses around 47 million years ago.

The Siberian unicorn’s extinction coincided with the disappearance of many other large-bodied Eurasian animals. Homo sapiens also arrived in the region at around this time. However, the demise of E. sibiricum, a specialized grazer, may have been linked to environmental and climatic shifts affecting its habitat.

More Research Highlights...

Camera-trap image of Dendrohyrax interfluvialis

Some tree hyraxes scream in the night, but the newly identified Dendrohyrax interfluvialis (above, camera-trap image) utters a complex series of squawks, rattles and barks. Credit: J. F. Oates et al./Zool. J. Linn. Soc.

Zoology

A bark in the dark reveals a hidden hyrax

Its neighbours scream, but a new species of tree hyrax — a cousin of the elephant — unleashes a rattling bark.
Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty

Economics

Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
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