Navigation Links
UF researcher tests powerful new tool to advance ecology, conservation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. A new University of Florida study shows ecologists may have been missing crucial information from animal bones for more than 150 years.

The study featured on the cover of the November issue of Ecology shows animal bone remains provide high-quality geographical data across an extensive time frame. The research may be used to identify regions of habitat for the conservation of threatened species.

Charles Darwin first noted the importance of studying where animal bones lie on the landscape in 1860, but the topic has since become largely lost to scientists trying to protect and conserve native wildlife. By documenting accumulations of elk bones and antlers on the landscape of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, study author Joshua Miller identified areas critical for the species' survival during spring and winter.

"This is fundamental stuff, because for a long time the common knowledge was that bones only lasted a few years on the landscape," said Miller, an assistant scientist at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and Fenneman assistant research professor at the University of Cincinnati. "It turns out they last a lot longer and surveys of bones on landscapes offer a new tool for conservation and management one that allows us to collect decades of biological data in a single field season."

Walking across Yellowstone Park, Miller documented elk skeletal remains and determined the bones record the same seasonal distributions as aerial surveys of living elk.

Ecologists typically gather information for conservation by monitoring wild animals, a task requiring years of financial support and countless hours of observation by wildlife biologists. A long-term study in ecology consists of at least 10 to 20 years of census data. However, because some bones can survive on some landscapes for hundreds of years, they may include data from time periods beyond the reaches of a traditional ecological study, including historical insight often missing from scientists' knowledge of ecosystems, Miller said.

"A major challenge for wildlife conservation and management has been that biologists can only work in the present researchers can only start from when they began collecting data," Miller said. "If someone wants to develop a piece of land, for example, there may only be time for a few years of data collection, and we know as ecologists that such limited observations aren't enough to capture the full complexities of an ecosystem. This research shows we can go into the past, essentially using bones to travel through time and learn about generations of wildlife that were previously lost to science."

A popular hunting species, male elk grow to 700 pounds, shedding their more than 30-pound antlers annually. Miller used standardized bone surveys on 40 five-eighth-mile-long plots in the northern range of Yellowstone Park to identify wintering grounds by antler accumulations and calving grounds by the appearance of newborn skeletons.

"Bones are not randomly scattered across a landscape," Miller said. "Where a bone is found is often as biologically informative as which species it's from. As we investigate the quality of these geographic data, we're discovering that this is a gold mine of information."

Although the study represents a narrow test case, the strong correlation between how bones are distributed across Yellowstone Park and known patterns in how elk use the landscape shows this low-impact survey technique may be useful for understanding other areas, including poorly known or fragile ecosystems, Miller said.

Anna Behrensmeyer, vertebrate paleontology curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, uses bone surveys in East Africa for understanding the area's mammal populations and how bones become part of the fossil record. She said the study of taphonomy, the processes affecting organic remains as they become fossilized, is not commonly recognized in the field of ecology.

"In my long-term studies of bones, it has struck me that many ecologists have been missing useful information that is available in bones lying about on modern landscapes," Behrensmeyer said. "Josh is showing the potential of using bones, antlers and other remains to monitor what animals have been doing for the past decades and even hundreds of years."

Behrensmeyer said she hopes taphonomy as a research tool spreads from its traditional place in paleontology and archaeology into the realm of ecology.

"Sometimes we taphonomists feel like a small voice in the universe it's hard for the dead to capture the attention of scientists focused on understanding living organisms and ecosystems," Behrensmeyer said. "Once ecologists see this study, they could very well say, 'Why didn't I think of that?' "


Contact: Joshua Miller
University of Florida

Related biology news :

1. Study by UC Santa Barbara researchers suggests that bacteria communicate by touch
2. UC Santa Barbara researchers discover genetic link between visual pathways of hydras and humans
3. Study jointly led by UCSB researcher supports theory of extraterrestrial impact
4. U of Alberta researcher steps closer to understand autoimmune diseases
5. Researchers attempt to solve problems of antibiotic resistance and bee deaths in one
6. UNH researchers find African farmers need better climate change data to improve farming practices
7. Ottawa researchers to lead world-first clinical trial of stem cell therapy for septic shock
8. Researchers uncover molecular pathway through which common yeast becomes fungal pathogen
9. Researchers print live cells with a standard inkjet printer
10. Columbia Engineering and Penn researchers increase speed of single-molecule measurements
11. Researchers reveal how a single gene mutation leads to uncontrolled obesity
Post Your Comments:
(Date:5/16/2017)... DALLAS , May 16, 2017   ... for health organizations, and MD EMR Systems ... certified development partner for GE, have established a ... Patient Portal product and the GE Centricity™ products, ... Centricity EMR. These new integrations ...
(Date:4/24/2017)... -- Janice Kephart , former 9/11 Commission ... LLP (IdSP) , today issues the following statement: ... 6, 2017 Executive Order: Protecting the Nation ... instilled with greater confidence, enabling the reactivation of ... are suspended by until at least July 2017). ...
(Date:4/18/2017)... a global expert in SoC-based imaging and computing solutions, has developed ... the company,s hybrid codec technology. A demonstration utilizing TeraFaces ® , ... showcased during the upcoming Medtec Japan at Tokyo Big Sight April ... Vegas Convention Center April 24-27. ... Click here for an image of the M820 ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:10/10/2017)... International research firm Parks Associates announced today that ... TMA 2017 Annual Meeting , October 11 in Scottsdale, ... security market and how smart safety and security products impact the competitive ... Parks Associates: Smart Home Devices: Main ... "The residential security market has experienced continued ...
(Date:10/10/2017)... ... October 10, 2017 , ... USDM ... firm for the life sciences and healthcare industries, announces a presentation by Subbu ... , The presentation, “Automating GxP Validation for Agile Cloud Platforms,” will present a ...
(Date:10/9/2017)... 9, 2017  BioTech Holdings announced today identification ... its ProCell stem cell therapy prevents limb loss ... Company, demonstrated that treatment with ProCell resulted in ... as compared to standard bone marrow stem cell ... in reduction of therapeutic effect.  ...
(Date:10/9/2017)... ... , ... At its national board meeting in North Carolina, ARCS® Foundation ... of Physics and Astronomy, has been selected for membership in ARCS Alumni Hall ... 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental physics for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of ...
Breaking Biology Technology: