This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

Initial Publication Date: October 25, 2010

Mammoths and Mastodons

This activity was developed during the Teaching Climate Change from the Geological Record workshop, held in August 2010.
Contributed by Susan Conrad, Alison Smith, and Stephanie Peek


Topic: Mammal biogeography and climate 

Course Type: Introductory Geology Course, College Freshman level


Introductory Lecture

Mammal biogeography and climate, glacial-interglacial cycles in North American Quaternary, introduction of biome concept, keystone taxa concept 50 minutes

Homework assignment: Students will bring a map with the plotted positions by lat/long of unlabeled sites of mastodon and mammoth localities in North America (from Faunmap) to lab the following day. These unlabeled sites will simply be identified as "A" (mastodons) and "B" (mammoths).

Lab (approximately 2.5 hours)

  • Students will be divided into randomly selected working groups and each group will receive:
  • List of data options they could request, with prices and a working budget (other proxies - pollen, mammals, other microfossils, glacial landscape data, isotope data for example)
  • Lat/Long of mastodon or mammoth site(s)
  • Description of fossil find

Goal: To identify whether they have a mastodon or mammoth, to reconstruct the paleoenvironment and to answer the questions on the worksheet - which team can do this and come in under budget. Mark on the "A" and "B" map the identification of their fossil site.

Next day lecture

Putting the lab in context of extinction events, late glacial-Holocene transition, changing environments. In-class discussion drawing on questions and insights that came up in lab.




Students should be able to do the following:

  • List major differences between mammoths and mastodons,
  • Explain the different environmental preferences of the two groups
  • Make use of online faunal and floral databases (e.g., Faunmap, Pollen Mapper, Neotoma) to map the co-occurrences of other climate proxies associated with these finds
  • Understand the Biome concept
  • Understand the Keystone Taxa concept



  • Completed worksheet and identification of "A" and "B" map as Mammoths and Mastodons, and group representative presents summary of findings.
  • Brief in lab discussion - raise questions for discussion in concluding lecture scheduled for the next day. Discussion of map.