Eocene fossils provide a glimpse of the future (cont.)

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tapirs in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming.* These Asian immigrants also included a diverse array of testudinoids or tortoise relatives that quickly became dominant in North American aquatic ecosystems. UCMP is home to the largest collection of these early Eocene turtles, due to ongoing research of their systematics and phylogeny by Howard Hutchison. His work has demonstrated that both intercontinental and intracontinental migrations took place in concert with climate change.

Applying a model from the past
These different avenues of research highlight two important points. First, biotic responses to climate change are varied, and we are just beginning to

 

understand the relationship and mediating factors between climate and biotic change. Second, fossil collections are critical in documenting and understanding past climate changes. This understanding can inform us about the present. It is clear from the fossil record that the response to climate change leads to the extinction of species, the origination of new ones, or species migrations into new suitable habitats.

* Specimens are from Castle Gardens and collected by Dr. Suzanne Strait of Marshall University


May, 2004

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