Origin and causes of the mammoth steppe: a story of cloud cover, woolly mammal tooth pits, buckles, and inside-out Beringia
To account for the vastness of the northern arid steppes during Glacial episodes, I propose the proximate key variable was simply frequent clear skies. This hitherto under-emphasized point is the hub which best explains many questions. Low maritime cloud cover best accounts for today's tundra, and in a related way, the cloudy Polar Front accounts for the whole of the taiga. Even during Glacial maxima, the proximity of the sea to the Bering isthmus created intermittent maritime cloud cover. This regional cloud cover produced an ecological interruption, or buckle, of the arid steppe belt. While this Beringian mesic buckle did not serve as an intercontinental ecological barrier to most steppe-adapted species, it does seem to have limited the distributions of woolly rhinos, camels, American kiangs, short-faced bears, badgers, and some others. At the beginning of the Holocene, this narrow refugium seems to have been a source of some mesic-adapted species which colonized westward into the now tundra vegetation of northern Asia and eastward into northern North America. This Holocene expansion from a limited and regional Pleistocene refugium created our present misconceptions about Beringia. The mid-strait mesic ecological conditions were the exception to the more extensive, arid-adapted, communities of the Mammoth Steppe.