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Ice Age Wildlife

The vegetation provided habitat for many wildlife species that are either extinct or extirpated from the region today. Fossil evidence for full-glacial fauna in the Southeast is scarce because the highly humid climate and soil types deteriorate fossils. However, in areas where limestone is found, such as Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, parts of the Coastal Plain, and in natural bogs, some fossils have been preserved. These fossils provide evidence of diverse wildlife species that existed during the Ice Age (Guilday 1982). The abundance of wildlife may have been partially due to a more moderate climate created by the large glaciers, without the extremes of our more continental weather today (Kurten 1988).

The glacier squeezed boreal, temperate, and subtropical ecosystems into a smaller land area. Wildlife species adapted to boreal conditions could easily migrate seasonally to forage in neighboring temperate or even subtropical ecosystems.

Webb (1981) reports the presence of wooly mammoths as far south as Charleston, SC, where fossil records indicate that tapirs and capybaras were also found (Kurten 1988, Webb 1981). Fossil records of the boreal region during full glaciation include wooly mammoths, horses, caribou, bison, moose, black bears, beaver, and several species of musk oxen, among many other species.

Temperate region fossils include browsers such as mastodons, elk, white-tailed deer, sloths, peccaries, and grazers such as Columbian mammoths, bison, horses, llamas, along with black bears, beaver, spectacled bears, and a host of other species.

The subtropical region included many of the same species found in the temperate and boreal regions plus tapirs, capybaras, and alligators. Guilday (1982) reported that mammal diversity during this time consisted of at least 75 species. This number is 32 percent greater than mammals represented when Europeans arrived. In addition, 26 mammal species at full glaciation were large, compared to 6 large species in 1500.

The diversity of grazers and browsers supports the hypothesis of great ecological diversity. The landscape of scattered copse and individual trees mixed with grasslands formed numerous vegetation edges (ecotones) no longer present in the South (Guilday 1982, Webb 1981).

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content: Wayne D. Carroll
webmaster: John M. Pye

created: 4-OCT-2002
modified: 08-Dec-2013