For the first time, scientists have found a direct relationship between global warming and the evolution of contemporary wildlife. A research team led by Stanford University biologist Elizabeth A. Hadly published its findings in the Sept. 7 online edition of the journal PloS Biology.
"We think we know a lot about how animals might respond to global warming, but we really have very little idea about their actual genetic response to environmental change," said Hadly, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Stanford.
In the study, she and her colleagues conducted a genetic analysis of two species of rodents commonly found in Wyomings Yellowstone National Park – the montane vole (Microtus montanus) and the northern pocket gopher (Thomomys talpoides). The researchers collected DNA from living animals and from the teeth of fossilized specimens whose remains were buried in Lamar Cave, a remote site near the northeast entrance to the park. "The deposit in the cave is about nine yards deep and it took me seven years to excavate and identify the fossils," Hadly said. "It contains hundreds of thousands of bones and represents a continuous fossil record dating back 3,000 years. This timescale allows us to really investigate microevolution in a natural environment, the way youd investigate it in a laboratory with something that has a much quicker generational timeline, such as bacteria or fruit flies."
Mark Shwartz | EurekAlert!
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