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Putting the dead to work for conservation biology
Date:1/19/2011

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 extinction around the time of the arrival of the Polynesians. Studies comparing the ecological characteristics of bird species before and after this extinction reveals 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 the first Europeans arrived in the islands; most large-bodied birds had already disappeared. European colonization of the islands led to a second wave of extinctions.

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

"Conservation research too rarely makes use of geohistorical data," says H. Richard Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation Division of Earth Sciences, which funds both Dietl's and Flessa's work. "Most such studies focus on short timescales ranging from years to decades. Looking back farthermuch fartherin time may be crucial to comprehending events unfolding today."

In their review, Dietl and Flessa cite a study on the frequency of insect damage to fossil angiosperm 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 because global average temperatures during this time period rose by ~ 9-14F˚ (5-8˚C) in less than 10,000 years.

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Contact: Maja Anderson
mma86@cornell.edu
607-273-6623
Paleontological Research Institution
Source:Eurekalert  

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