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Extinct Columbian (Mammuthus columbi) and Channel Island (M. exilis) Mammoths Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat

Extinct Columbian (Mammuthus columbi) and Channel Island (M. exilis) Mammoths

How Do We Know This?

Paleontologists use knowledge of the earth's rocks, global plate tectonic movements, ancient ecosystems, and the chemical process of fossilization to make sense of fossil distribution patterns and ancient habitats.


  • Columbian mammoths occupied North America from Canada to central Mexico. (Todd & Roth 1996).
  • No mammoths dispersed into South America. (Dudley 1996)
  • Columbian mammoths arrived on the Channel Islands at least by 47,000 years ago and eventually evolved pygmy individuals (Agenbroad 1996)
  • Pygmy Channel Island Mammoths occupied what are now island remnants of a larger Pleistocene island. (Agenbroad 1998) (Agenbroad & Mead 1996)
    • Sea levels rose when the last ice age ended, further isolating the island mammoths and shrinking their habitat
    • San Miguel and Santa Rosa islands all have pygmy mammoth fossils


  • Extremely variable habitats (Agenbroad & Mead 1996).
    • From sea level to high elevation mountains of Colorado Plateau.
    • From riparian, dune, grassland, to steppe-tundra
      • Revealed by pollen and plant fragments in sediments and dung
  • Habitat use for modern elephants can also be determined by study of isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, lead, and strontium
    • These isotopes are deposited in bone tissue of modern and extinct elephants
    • Each habitat has distinct isotope signature from plant types, soils, water. (Koch et al 1995)
  • Mammoths, like elephants, modified their habitats
    • Landscape of Channel Islands probably became more open grassland due to mammoth's activities (Johnson 1972)
  • Forage in Channel Island habitats would have been a limiting resource, favoring smaller body size (Roth 1984)

Page Citations

Agenbroad (1998)
Agenbroad & Mead (1996)
Dudley (1996)
Johnson (1972)
Koch et al. (1995)
Todd & Roth (1996)

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