Excuses, excuses, excuses…

This blog has been *sleeping* for a few months. Why, you might ask dear reader? Well…the last few months could best be described as schizophrenic. The projects that we’ve been working on are pretty diverse, and they’ve all been progressing, more or less, synchronously. So stay tuned for more details. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of what’s in the hopper.

1. Mammoths and mastodons. Our extinction project is in its last year. The dates are rolling in and we have some very interesting results. We’ve narrowed down the error estimate around the actual time of mastodon extinction to ~250 years. They blip out in the Midwest just as the Younger Dryas, a return to glacial conditions, is getting underway ~12.9 ka. Although mammoths are probably extirpated at about the same time (the last mammoth dates are just a few hundred years earlier than the last mastodon dates), their pattern of extinction is much different. Mastodons go out with a bang. In the last few hundred years prior to extinctions, mastodons are still distributed widely throughout the Midwest. In fact, many sites dating to this time period have multiple animals in them (including Boney Spring, MO, with ~31 mastodons). Mammoths however, are fewer and farther between by the time the terminal Pleistocene rolls around. Although they are here, shoulder to shoulder with mastodons, they are not present in high numbers.

2. MORE Mammoths and Mastodons. Although our project is focused on the extinction of these beasts, we’ve also been able to document quite a bit of morphological diversity in mammoths and mastodons. What do these patterns mean? Are they due to a complex evolutionary history? Or to local environmental pressures? Are there chronoclines (shape and size changes through time) that might give us insight into adaptive strategies?

3. Even MORE Mammoths and Mastodons…and isotopes. We’ve been tweaking our new micromill technique to drill very tiny holes in mammoth teeth. The importance of this research is that it gives us a seasonal-scale picture of the life of a mammoth over the course of a few years. We can see what it was eating and where it was moving (IF it was moving).

4. 3D scanning and printing. In June we received our first 3D printer. In August we received our second. We’ve been working to test the dozens of 3D scans we’ve done over the last year or so. We’re hoping to post them to a gallery soon.

5. Going to the dogs. Illinois is home to one of the most complete records of early dogs in North America. A few years back, we started re-analyzing dog remains from the Koster and Stilwell sites in western Illinois for insight into the lives of these early dogs. I’ll definitely be talking more about them in the next few months.

6. Just batty. Finally, no blog post would be complete without some mention of the bat paleontology that we’ve been working on. Bat guano. Bat bones. Bat ecology.

From mega to micro. Stay tuned for more updates.

C

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About cwidga

Chris Widga is a vertebrate paleontologist with the East Tennessee Museum of Natural History at the Gray Fossil Site. His research is focused on the ecology of Quaternary mammals (and increasingly, Neogene).

Posted on February 21, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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