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Habitats of Pleistocene megaherbivores reconstructed from the frozen fauna remains

Cite this dataset

Axmanová, Irena et al. (2019). Habitats of Pleistocene megaherbivores reconstructed from the frozen fauna remains [Dataset]. Dryad.


The Late Pleistocene landscape in northern Eurasia and North America was inhabited by a specific megafaunal complex, which largely disappeared during the Pleistocene/Holocene transition. Vegetation changes are considered as one of the factors responsible for these extinctions, but the structure and composition of the Pleistocene vegetation are still poorly known. Here we complement previous studies by comparing the taxonomic composition of the plant remains found in the gastrointestinal tracts of the frozen carcasses of Pleistocene megaherbivores with the species composition of the current Siberian vegetation. We compiled a dataset of palaeobotanical records from frozen individuals of Pleistocene megaherbivores found in northern Siberia and Beringia and dated to the period from more than 50 kyr BP to 9 kyr BP. We also compiled a dataset of vegetation plots from several regions in Siberia. We analysed the similarity in taxonomic composition of plants between these two datasets using a novel method that accounts for variable taxonomic resolution in palaeobotanical data. For most megaherbivore individuals, plant remains in their gastrointestinal tracts corresponded to tundra, forest and mire vegetation, while they showed low similarity to steppe. This pattern was relatively constant over time, showing no remarkable differences between the Last Glacial Maximum and the periods before and afterwards. This suggests that during the Upper Pleistocene, a mosaic of mesic and wet vegetation types such as tundra with patches of forests and mires was common in northern Siberia and Beringia. In contrast, the steppe was rare to absent in the landscape or underused by the megaherbivores as a pasture since they found enough food in the widespread mesic and wet habitats with more productive vegetation.


Supporting data to the manuscript

Axmanová et al.: Habitats of Pleistocene megaherbivores reconstructed from the frozen fauna remains. Ecography. DOI 10.1111/ecog.04940

This database contains information on plant remains identified in frozen megafauna individuals.

We compiled plant records reported from the Pleistocene and early Holocene frozen megaherbivores found in northern Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon Territory. The palaeobotanical data include pollen+spores, macrofossils and DNA analyses reported from gastrointestinal tracts of frozen fauna or coprolites (for more details see Table A2, the manuscript and Supporting information.

Plant nomenclature follows Cherepanov (1995) for vascular plants and Ignatov & Afonina (1992) for bryophytes.

All frozen animal samples are sorted according to their radiocarbon dating, with the same IDs as in the manuscript. Following Ukraintseva (2013) and Willerslev et al. (2014), we used the division of individual samples into periods of pre-LGM (50–25 kyr BP; called Kargin in northern Siberia or Wisconsinian Interstadial in North America), LGM (25–15 kyr BP; Sartan Ice Age/Late Wisconsinian) and post-LGM (15 kyr BP – present; Late glacial and early Holocene).

The taxa of the palaeobotanical records were included in our analyses at three identification levels, as species, genus and family. Higher taxa than families were not considered.

Following tables are included:

Palaebotanical-data-all: this table includes all available palaeobotanical data published. If available, we included also proportional data (percentages) and pollen data from the surrounding sediment, although these were not included in our analyses.

Pollen: Presence/absence data of pollen and spores identified in individual frozen animals. Data used in our analyses.

Macrofossils: Presence/absence data of macrofossils reported from individual frozen animals. Data used in our analyses.

Pollen-Macrofossils-DNA:  Presence/absence data based on combined evidence of pollen+spores, DNA and macrofossils. Data used in our analyses.



Cherepanov, S. K. 1995. Vascular Plants of Russia and Adjacent Countries (within the Former USSR). – Mir i sem’ya-95, Sankt Petersburg (in Russian).

Ignatov, M. S. and Afonina, O. M. 1992. Check-list of mosses of the former USSR. – Arctoa 1: 1–58.

Ukraintseva, V. V. 2013. Mammoths and the Environment. – Cambridge University Press.

Willerslev, E. et al. 2014. Fifty thousand years of Arctic vegetation and megafaunal diet. – Nature 506: 47–51.


Czech Science Foundation, Award: P504/11/0454

Czech Science Foundation, Award: 17-15168S

Russian Foundation for Basic Research, Award: АААА-А17-117020110056-0

Russian Foundation for Basic Research, Award: 18-45-140007 р_а