Quaternary mammal research

Why did the woolly mammoth go extinct? What environmental pressures caused dwarfing of elephants on Mediterranean islands in the past? What is the role of animal behaviour in the evolution of their anatomical adaptations?

We are tackling these questions and more with a diverse range of research projects.

  • Dama roberti.
    Evolution and taxonomy of Ice Age deer

    This project aims to reconstruct relationships among extinct deer species that lived in Europe between 2.5 and the present. We are also making an in-depth study of the origin of subspecies within the modern red deer group.

  • Dwarf elephant tooth shown next to one of normal size
    Dwarfing of fossil mammals on Mediterranean islands

    Our earth scientists are leading a project to study the effect of dramatic environmental changes over the last 800,000 years on the evolution and survival of dwarf elephants and dwarf deer. Such work may help us understand how mammals might respond to climate change today.

  • Illustration showing hominids hunting mammoths during the Pleistocene period
    Extinction of large mammals in the Late Quaternary Ice Age

    Discover what research is underway at the Natural History Museum to discover why large mammals went extinct in the Late Quaternary Ice Age.

  • Loxodonta africana cyclotis, the African forest elephant.
    Taxonomic status of living elephants

    The taxonomy of both African and Asian elephants is under debate. Museum researchers are conducting studies on anatomical variation in elephants to complement existing genetic research. Learn more about the Museum's work.

  • Model of the woolly mammoth found at Ilford in England
    Mammoth evolution as a model for species origins

    Using mammoth fossils and ancient DNA, our researchers are studying and modeling how new species originate. Find out more about this project, and why the fossil record of the Quaternary ice ages is so useful for observing evolution in action.

  • A scientist at work in the Ancient DNA lab
    Ancient DNA analysis

    DNA is sometimes preserved in ancient biological specimens, allowing us to trace molecular evolutionary processes through time and space. Learn more about this powerful source of information, the questions it can help answer, and related projects at the Museum.

  • Auroch, or European bison.
    Body size variation in Quaternary mammals

    We are investigating the influence of food and temperature on body size change in ice age mammals.

  • Polar bear.
    The role of behaviour in evolution

    How does the evolution of new adaptive traits begin? We are using the fossil record to investigate how behavioural responses to the environment may place species in an adaptive regime where new morphologies evolve.

Quaternary mammal researchers

Dr Adrian Lister Five minutes with: Prof Adrian Lister

Our expert in ice age mammals reveals his career highlights, from sabre-tooth tigers to mammoths.