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?’ ”Writer:
Danielle Torrent | Newswise Science News
Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy