Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



PNAS 2022 Vol. 119 No. 25 e2118329119




Under harsh Pleistocene climates, migration and other forms of seasonally patterned landscape use were likely critical for reproductive success of mastodons (Mammut americanum) and other megafauna. However, little is known about how their geographic ranges and mobility fluctuated seasonally or changed with sexual maturity. We used a spatially explicit movement model that coupled strontium and oxygen isotopes from two serially sampled intervals (5+ adolescent years and 3+ adult years) in a male mastodon tusk to test for changes in landscape use associated with maturation and reproductive phenology. The mastodon’s early adolescent home range was geographically restricted, with no evidence of seasonal preferences. Following inferred separation from the matriarchal herd (starting age 12 y), the adolescent male’s mobility increased as landscape use expanded away from his natal home range (likely central Indiana). As an adult, the mastodon’s monthly movements increased further. Landscape use also became seasonally structured, with some areas, including northeast Indiana, used only during the inferred mastodon mating season (spring/summer). The mastodon died in this area (>150 km from his core, nonsummer range) after sustaining a craniofacial injury consistent with a fatal blow from a competing male’s tusk during a battle over access to mates. Northeast Indiana was likely a preferred mating area for this individual and may have been regionally significant for late Pleistocene mastodons. Similarities between mammutids and elephantids in herd structure, tusk dimorphism, tusk function, and the geographic component of male maturation indicate that these traits were likely inherited from a common ancestor.