College of Arts and Sciences

Distinguished Lecturer: Daniel Fisher

"Mastodons and Mammoths of the Great Lakes Region:
Tales Tusks Tell"flier image

Daniel Fisher

Claude W. Hibbard Collegiate Professor of Paleontology

Director of the Museum of Paleontology

Professor in the Departments of Earth & Environmental Sciences and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

University of Michigan

Friday, November 11, 2016
Walb Classic Ballroom
12:00 p.m.

Mastodons and mammoths, relatives of elephants, were prominent members of Ice Age faunas of the Great Lakes region, and both disappeared from this area about 10,000 years ago. What caused their extinction remains a mystery. A new approach to this problem uses their tusks as monitors of diet, growth rates, environmental quality, and reproductive biology. Tusk layers also form on a hierarchy of time intervals from daily to weekly to annual, and counts of these layers provide data on age. The key to inferring cause of extinction is a better understanding of conditions of life. Only a quantitative analysis of tusk records accesses the data critical to understanding what drove the extinction of mastodons and mammoths and humans’ role in this process.


Daniel C. Fisher (PhD, 1975, Harvard University) teaches at the University of Michigan, where he is the Claude W. Hibbard Collegiate Professor of Paleontology, Director of the Museum of Paleontology, and Professor in the Departments of Earth & Environmental Sciences and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. His interest in Ice Age relatives of elephants developed in response to discoveries of mastodons and mammoths in the North American Great Lakes region. Evidence at some sites suggested human association, and this catalyzed an interest in whether human activity had contributed to the extinction of these animals. His recent studies use analyses of the structure and composition of mastodon and mammoth tusks to reconstruct aspects of their behavior, growth history, and reproductive biology. He also studies mammoths in Siberia. This arctic perspective, involving spectacular specimens recovered from the permafrost, is adding new insights to our understanding of proboscidean paleobiology, climate change, and megafaunal extinction.