CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Jaelyn Eberle said the study shows several varieties of prehistoric mammals as heavy as 1,000 pounds each lived on what is today Ellesmere Island near Greenland on a summer diet of flowering plants, deciduous leaves and aquatic vegetation.
But in winter's twilight they apparently switched over to foods like twigs, leaf litter, evergreen needles and fungi, said Eberle, curator of fossil vertebrates at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History and chief study author.The study has implications for the dispersal of early mammals across polar land bridges into North America and for modern mammals that likely will begin moving north if Earth's climate continues to warm. A paper on the subject co-authored by Henry Fricke of Colorado College in Colorado Springs and John Humphrey of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden appears in the June issue of Geology.
Telltale isotopic signatures of carbon from enamel layers that form sequentially during tooth eruption allowed the team to pinpoint the types of plant materials consumed by the mammals as they ate their way across the landscape through the seasons, Eberle said.
"We were able to use carbon signatures preserved in the tooth enamel to show that these mammals did not migrate or hibernate," said Eberle. "Instead, they lived in the high Arctic all year long, munching on some unusual things during the dark winter months." The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.
An analysis of oxygen isotopes from the fossil teeth helped determine seasonal changes in surface drinking water tied to precipitation and temperature, providing additional climate information, said Eberle. The results point to warm, humid summers and mild winters in the high Arctic 53 million years ago, where temperatures probably ranged from just above freezing to near 70 degrees Fahrenheit, Eberle said.
The environment on central Ellesmere Island, located at about 80 degrees north latitude, was part of a much larger circumpolar Arctic region at the time, she said. It probably was similar to swampy cypress forests in the southeast United States today and still contains fossil tree stumps as large as washing machines, Eberle said.
On central Ellesmere Island in today's high Arctic -- a polar desert that features tundra, permafrost, ice sheets, sparse vegetation and a few small mammals -- the temperature ranges from roughly minus 37 degrees F in winter to 48 degrees F in summer and is the coldest, driest environment on Earth. There is no sunlight in the high Arctic between October and February, and the midnight sun is present from mid-April through the end of August.
The year-round presence of mammals such as the hippo-like Coryphodon, tapirs and brontotheres in the high Arctic was a "behavioral prerequisite" for their eventual dispersal across high-latitude land bridges that geologists believe linked Asia and Europe with North America, Eberle said. Their dietary chemical signatures, portly shapes and fossil evidence for babies and juveniles in the Arctic preclude the idea of long, seasonal migrations to escape the winter darkness, she said.
"In order for mammals to have covered the great distances across land bridges that once connected the continents, they would have required the ability to inhabit the High Arctic year-round in proximity to these land bridges," Eberle said.
Instead, the animals likely made their way south from the Arctic in minute increments over millions of years as the climate shifted. "This study may provide the behavioral smoking gun for how modern groups of mammals like ungulates -- ancestors of today's horses and cattle -- and true primates arrived in North America," said Eberle, also an assistant professor in CU-Boulder's geological sciences department.
The surprising menagerie of Arctic creatures during the early Eocene epoch, which lasted from roughly 50 million to 55 million years ago, first became evident in 1975 when a team led by Mary Dawson of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburg discovered fossil alligator jaw bones. Since then, fossils of aquatic turtles, giant tortoises, snakes and even flying lemurs -- one of the earliest forms of primates -- have been found on Ellesmere Island, said Eberle.
The new Geology study also foreshadows the impacts of continuing global warming on Arctic plants and animals, Eberle said. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as those at mid-latitudes as greenhouse gases build up in Earth's atmosphere from rising fossil-fuel burning, and air temperatures over Greenland have risen by more than 7 degrees F since 1991, according to climate scientists.
"We are hypothesizing that lower-latitude mammals will migrate north as the temperatures warm in the coming centuries and millennia," she said. If temperatures ever warm enough in the future to rival the Eocene, there is the possibility of new intercontinental migrations by mammals."
Because the oldest known tapir fossils are from the Arctic, there is the possibility that some prehistoric mammals could have evolved in the circumpolar Arctic and then dispersed through Asia, Europe and North America, said Eberle. "We may have to re-think the world of the early Eocene, when all of the Arctic land masses were connected in a supercontinent of sorts," she said.
Jaelyn Eberle | EurekAlert!
Colorado River's connection with the ocean was a punctuated affair
16.11.2017 | University of Oregon
Researchers create largest, longest multiphysics earthquake simulation to date
14.11.2017 | Gauss Centre for Supercomputing
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine
17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses