GAINESVILLE, Fla. University of Florida paleontologists have discovered remarkably well-preserved fossils of two crocodilians and a mammal previously unknown to science during recent Panama Canal excavations that began in 2009.
The two new ancient extinct alligator-like animals and an extinct hippo-like species inhabited Central America during the Miocene about 20 million years ago. The research expands the range of ancient animals in the subtropics some of the most diverse areas today about which little is known historically because lush vegetation prevents paleontological excavations and may be used to better understand how climate change affects species dispersal today. The two studies appear online today in the same issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The fossils shed new light on scientists' understanding of species distribution because they represent a time before the formation of the Isthmus of Panama, when the continents of North and South America were separated by oceanic waters.
"In part we are trying to understand how ecosystems have responded to animals moving long distances and across geographic barriers in the past," said study co-author Jonathan Bloch, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. "It's a testing ground for things like invasive species if you have things that migrated from one place into another in the past, then potentially you have the ability to look at what impact a new species might have on an ecosystem in the future."
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation Panama Canal Partnerships in International Research and Education project, which supports paleontological excavation of the canal during construction expected to continue through 2014.
"We're very fortunate we could get the funding for PIRE to take advantage of this opportunity we're getting to sample these areas that are co
|Contact: Jonathan Bloch|
University of Florida