New Details On Ancient American Climate Based On Fossilized Beetles
May 13, 2014

New Details On Ancient American Climate Based On Fossilized Beetles

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Using an analysis of fossilized beetle remains, a team of Canadian and American researchers has uncovered new details on the climate of northwestern North America 50 million years ago.

According to a report from the team, areas in Washington and British Columbia experienced mild, frost-free winters during the early Eocene – 50 million years ago. The conclusion, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was based on an analysis of a particular beetle species that fed only on palm seeds.

“The natural distribution of palms is limited today to regions without significant frost days, which their seeds and seedlings can’t survive,” said study author Bruce Archibald, a biologist at Simon Fraser University. “A cooler upland with palms indicates a specific climate type, where a temperate average yearly temperature—rather like Vancouver today—had warmer winters where palms can complete their lifecycles.”

Because fossilized palms are extremely hard to come by, the researchers instead looked to the remains of a beetle that used to feed exclusively on palms. By detecting the presence of these palms, the researchers said their work would inform studies surrounding modern-day climate issues.

“We see this happening today in significant ways—warm the winters a little, and you get big changes, such as the explosion of mountain pine beetle populations that strongly affect forests and the people and economies that depend on them,” Archibald said.

“Using the fossil record to understand climates of the deep past that had significant similarities to climates that we are now encountering may help forearm us with knowledge that will be important to our future as we increasingly experience the effects of global warming,” he added.

The team’s research was made possible by funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Coauthors of the study include Geoffrey Morse of the University of San Diego, California, and David Greenwood of Manitoba’s Brandon University.