"The skeletons of long-dead animals lying on landscapes provide critical insight into our understanding of ecosystem history, especially how populations have changed," said the study's author, University of Chicago alumnus Joshua H. Miller, S.M.'05, PhD'09, a postdoctoral research fellow in biological sciences at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
The study, published in the March 28 issue of PLoS ONE, presents data that Miller collected for his UChicago doctoral dissertation. His study provides a deeper context for the many disturbances that are altering ecosystems around the world, including global warming, overharvesting and habitat destruction."These changes result in population reductions and extinctions of some species, while others expand and invade new habitats and regions," Miller explained. "Most ecosystems have not been studied over long time spans — many decades at least — which hampers the ability of wildlife managers and other scientists to properly document or mediate these dramatic ecological changes."
Then he compared the numbers of specimens from each species documented in bones to surveys of the living populations.
Miller found that all the native species in the living community were recovered and that the order of species from most abundant to least abundant was similar for the bones and the living community. Species whose populations significantly diminished or expanded over the last 20 to 80 years were predictably over- or under-represented in the bones relative to the living community.
"Live elk were much more abundant in the 1990s than they are today," Miller said, "and the bones of Yellowstone feature far more elk than one would predict based on the current Yellowstone community."
Horses, which were replaced by cars as the dominant mode of transportation in Yellowstone in the early 1900s, also are readily found as skeletal remains. Radiocarbon dating confirmed that horse bones were generally remnants from when the cavalry controlled Yellowstone in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
In contrast to these ghosts of larger past populations, species that have recently increased in abundance (bison and the recently arrived mountain goat) are less common in the skeletal record than current living populations would predict. Overall, the bones of Yellowstone correlate well with the area's historical ecosystem and provide more detailed information about the historical community than can be acquired from only studying the ecosystem today.
"Bones provide a great tool for uncovering historical ecological data that allow us to put modern biodiversity in a broader temporal context," Miller said. "The living populations of Yellowstone have been studied for a long time and provide a great opportunity to test how well bones record species' histories. Now we can go the next step and use bone accumulations in regions we have only recently begun studying to obtain critical historical data and establish how ecosystems have changed over the last decades, century or even longer."
Miller's research also suggests that the ecological information contained in the fossil record may provide more biological details on extinct ecosystems than previously thought.
"Josh has shown that the bones of Yellowstone accurately track recent and not-so-recent history of the large mammal populations in this famous North American ecosystem," said Kay Behrensmeyer, curator of vertebrate paleontology of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. "This should be a wake-up call for ecologists interested in the movements, increases and declines of large mammal populations anywhere — bones are a relatively untapped and valuable source of ecological data about animals when they were alive."
Miller received the 2008 Romer Prize in paleontology for the research, which was supervised by Susan Kidwell, UChicago's William Rainey Harper Professor in Geophysical Sciences.
Steve Koppes | EurekAlert!
The Great Unknown: Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents
19.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
19.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
19.01.2017 | Life Sciences
19.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy