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Ancient Environment Modeling Helps Shed Light On Evolution, Researchers Say

Oct 16, 2015 04:59 PM EDT
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Using paleoclimate data, researchers from the University of Basque Country (UBC) reconstructed what ancient environments would have been like in the Cantabrian Region, an area that stretches from Asturias, in northern Spain, to Provence in southeastern France, during the Upper Pleistocen. The Pleistocen Epoch lasted from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, a period where many species began to resemble their similar to their modern relatives. Reconstructing ancient environments allows researchers to better understand how species have evolved over time. 

For their study on the Cantabrian Region, UBC researchers analyzed small vertebrates, marine microfauna and stable isotopes of herbivores living during a period spanning 35,000 years of the Pleitocen Epoch. To do this, researchers headed to an archaeological sit known as Antoliñako Koba, which is located in the Basque region of Spain. The team's reconstruction of the area's past environment represents the best resolution ever achieved for such a study, according to a news release.   

"The two principal merits of the study are, firstly, having compared the continental and marine records of the same region, filling the gaps that existed in the terrestrial sequence by using the marine record, which tends to be more complete; and, secondly, having produced a continuous palaeo-environmental reconstruction of the period between 44 and nine million years before present in the Cantabrian Region," Juan Rofes, an archaeozoologist and palaeontologist, explained in the release. 

From the archeological site, researchers collected bone collagen of a deer and compared it with marine microfaunal evidence. This allowed them to see the changes in the communities of mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Researchers were able to date the evidence collected from the Antoliñako Koba site by means of radiocarbon. This made it possible to compare their findings to other known environmental records. 

Using this information, they confirmed that a series of warm and cold events in the Cantabrian Region occurred during the time period studied. This climate event coincides with the climate evolution in the northern hemisphere during the Upper Pleistocene.

"The contribution of this exhaustive palaeo-environmental reconstruction to regional and continental prehistory is unquestionable, since it enables us to get to know the climatic and environmental framework in which human groups in the past moved and which determined many of their strategies to adapt and survive. What is more, at this time of climate change increased by human pressure, it is a good idea to look at the past in order to learn lessons for the future," Rofes added in a statement

Their findings were recently published in the journal Scientific Reports

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