Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ancient animal urine provides insight into climate change

12.10.2010
Scientists at the University of Leicester are using an unusual resource to investigate ancient climates– prehistoric animal urine.

The animal in question is the rock hyrax, a common species in countries such as Namibia and Botswana. They look like large guinea pigs but are actually related to the elephant.

Hyraxes use specific locations as communal toilets, some of which have been used by generations of animals for thousands of years. The urine crystallises and builds up in stratified accumulations known as ‘middens’, providing a previously untapped resource for studying long-term climate change.

Funding from the Leverhulme Trust and, more recently, the European Research Council has allowed the Leicester group to join an international team led by Dr Brian Chase, from the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de Montpellier, to study these unique deposits. With Dr Chase, Drs Andrew Carr and Arnoud Boom from the University of Leicester’s Department of Geography are engaged in exploring novel records of past environmental change preserved within the middens.

Their work has recently been published in the journals “Quaternary Research”, “Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology” and “Geology”.

“In order to study past environmental changes scientists typically acquire samples from deposits laid down in bogs or lakes, within which organic matter, which can be dated is preserved,” explains Dr Carr. “But in dryland environments such as southern Africa this isn’t possible. Fortunately it seems that hyrax urine preserves organic matter over timescales of tens of thousands of years, which provides remarkable insights into past environmental changes within the hyrax habitat.”

Obtaining the material is not easy and Dr Chase is an experienced rock-climber, which allows him to reach middens that are often otherwise inaccessible. The middens form extremely tough deposits, which have to then be cut from the rocks with an angle grinder.

Using forensic techniques the Leicester group has been able to identify the individual organic molecules preserved in the middens; these include compounds produced by the hyraxes’ metabolism and plant-derived molecules which passed through the animals’ digestive system. These ‘biomarkers’ provide clues as to the kind of plants the animals were eating and therefore the sort of environment they were living in. The biomarkers thus reveal insights into how the climate of the region has changed during the last 30,000 years, with a potential accuracy of a few decades to centuries.

“Palaeoenvironmental records in this area were fragmentary,” says Dr Carr. “The middens are providing unique terrestrial records to compare against nearby deep ocean-core records, allowing us to think in much more detail about what drives African climate change.

“This is a very dynamic environment, and it appears that that the region’s climate changed in a complex manner during and after the last global Ice Age (around 20,000 years ago). The next step, which is part of Dr Chase’s new research project, will be to compare the midden data against simulations of past climates generated by GCMs [computer-based general circulation models that are used to simulate both past and future climates] to evaluate their performance and explore why climates have changed the way they have.”

Although the rock hyrax middens have been previously used to study pollen, this is the first time that their full potential to document the region’s climate has been explored. Drs Chase, Carr, Boom and their colleagues have already a number of scientific papers on hyrax urine, with more in production.

The research has been announced in the month when the University celebrates its Big Green Week (October 25-31) signalling the University’s commitment to carbon reduction and highlighting research that has an environmental impact.

Peter Thorley | alfa
Further information:
http://www.le.ac.uk

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Waste in the water – New purification techniques for healthier aquatic ecosystems
24.07.2018 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

nachricht Plenty of habitat for bears in Europe
24.07.2018 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

Im Focus: Lining up surprising behaviors of superconductor with one of the world's strongest magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur

What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...

Im Focus: World record: Fastest 3-D tomographic images at BESSY II

The quality of materials often depends on the manufacturing process. In casting and welding, for example, the rate at which melts solidify and the resulting microstructure of the alloy is important. With metallic foams as well, it depends on exactly how the foaming process takes place. To understand these processes fully requires fast sensing capability. The fastest 3D tomographic images to date have now been achieved at the BESSY II X-ray source operated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.

Dr. Francisco Garcia-Moreno and his team have designed a turntable that rotates ultra-stably about its axis at a constant rotational speed. This really depends...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

2018 Work Research Conference

25.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

'Building up' stretchable electronics to be as multipurpose as your smartphone

14.08.2018 | Information Technology

During HIV infection, antibody can block B cells from fighting pathogens

14.08.2018 | Life Sciences

First study on physical properties of giant cancer cells may inform new treatments

14.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>