Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Bones conjure Yellowstone's ecological ghosts

29.03.2011
By taking a closer look at animal bones scattered across the wilderness landscape, a researcher at the University of Chicago has found a powerful tool for showing how species' populations have changed over decades or even a century.

"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."

Surveying the bones of Yellowstone
In research funded by the National Science Foundation, Miller surveyed bones from the skeletons of hoofed mammals (ungulates) in Yellowstone National Park. The bones ranged in age from newly dead to approximately 200 years old.

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!
Further information:
http://www.uchicago.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Win-win strategies for climate and food security
02.10.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht The personality factor: How to foster the sharing of research data
06.09.2017 | ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods

19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA team finds noxious ice cloud on saturn's moon titan

19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New procedure enables cultivation of human brain sections in the petri dish

19.10.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>