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Putting the dead to work
Date:1/14/2011

entify the significant impact knowledge of fossil life can have on interpreting modern biodiversity and ecological trends."

Ancient DNA, for example, has been used to show that the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) was not able to move with shifting climates as its range contracted, eventually becoming extinct in Europe at the end of the Pleistocene.

However, the species persisted in regions of northeastern Siberia where the climate was still suitable for arctic foxes.

In another tale from the beyond, fossil evidence suggests that the birds of the Hawaiian Islands suffered large-scale extinctions around the time of the arrival of the Polynesians.

Studies comparing the ecological characteristics of bird species before and after these extinctions reveal a strong bias against larger-bodied and flightless, ground-nesting species.

The pattern suggests that hunting by humans played a role in the extinction of the flightless species.

By the 18th century, the time of the first Europeans' arrival in the islands, most large-bodied birds had already disappeared. European colonization of the islands led to a second wave of exctinctions.

Those birds that survived had traits that helped them weather two onslaughts.

In their review paper, Dietl and Flessa cite a study of the frequency in the fossil record of insect damage to flowering plant leaves in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming dating from before, during and after the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM, some 55.8 million years ago).

The PETM, scientists believe, is one of the best deep-time analogs for current global climate change questions.

Results from the insect research suggest that herbivory intensified during the PETM global warming episode.

"This finding provides insights into how the human-induced rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide is likely to affect insect-plant interactions in the long run," the authors write, "which is di
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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