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At an altitude of 2705 m in the Colorado Rockies (USA), the Ziegler Reservoir fossil site gives a rare look at a high-elevation ecosystem from the late Pleistocene (especially MIS 5) of North America. Remains of more than four mammoths and about 35 mastodons dominate the macrofossil assemblage. Mammoth remains are attributed to Mammuthus columbi, and mastodon remains are referred to the well-known, continent-wide Mammut americanum. Mastodon remains occur within and between several lake-margin slump deposits. Their deposition must therefore have occurred as events that were to some degree separate in time. We treat the mastodon assemblage in each stratigraphic unit as a source of information on environmental conditions during the lives of these individuals. Mastodon mandibular tusks are abundant at the site and represent both males and females, from calves to full-grown adults. This study presents the first attempt to use microCT, thin-section, and isotope records from mandibular tusks to reconstruct features of life-history. We recognize an up-section trend in δ18O profiles toward higher values, suggestive of warmer temperatures. Throughout this sequence, mastodon growth histories show low mean sensitivities suggestive of low levels of environmental stress. This work helps frame expectations for assessing environmental pressures on terminal Pleistocene populations.
In North America, terrestrial records of biodiversity and climate change that span Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 are rare. Where found, they provide insight into how the coupling of the ocean–atmosphere system is manifested in biotic and environmental records and how the biosphere responds to climate change. In 2010–2011, construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado (USA) revealed a nearly continuous, lacustrine/wetland sedimentary sequence that preserved evidence of past plant communities between ~140 and 55 ka, including all of MIS 5. At an elevation of 2705 m, the Ziegler Reservoir fossil site also contained thousands of well-preserved bones of late Pleistocene megafauna, including mastodons, mammoths, ground sloths, horses, camels, deer, bison, black bear, coyotes, and bighorn sheep. In addition, the site contained more than 26,000 bones from at least 30 species of small animals including salamanders, otters, muskrats, minks, rabbits, beavers, frogs, lizards, snakes, fish, and birds. The combination of macro- and micro-vertebrates, invertebrates, terrestrial and aquatic plant macrofossils, a detailed pollen record, and a robust, directly dated stratigraphic framework shows that high-elevation ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado are climatically sensitive and varied dramatically throughout MIS 5.
Two female woolly mammoth neonates from permafrost in the Siberian Arctic are the most complete mammoth specimens known. Lyuba, found on the Yamal Peninsula, and Khroma, from northernmost Yakutia, died at ages of approximately one and two months, respectively. Both specimens were CT-scanned, yielding detailed information on the stage of development of their dentition and skeleton and insight into conditions associated with death. Both mammoths died after aspirating mud. Khroma's body was frozen soon after death, leaving her tissues in excellent condition, whereas Lyuba's body underwent postmortem changes that resulted in authigenic formation of nodules of the mineral vivianite associated with her cranium and within diaphyses of long bones. CT data provide the only comprehensive approach to mapping vivianite distribution. Three-dimensional modeling and measurement of segmented long bones permits comparison between these individuals and with previously recovered specimens. CT scans of long bones and foot bones show developmental features such as density gradients that reveal ossification centers. The braincase of Khroma was segmented to show the approximate morphology of the brain; its volume is slightly less (∼2,300 cm3) than that of neonate elephants (∼2,500 cm3). Lyuba's premaxillae are more gracile than those of Khroma, possibly a result of temporal and/or geographic variation but probably also reflective of their age difference. Segmentation of CT data and 3-D modeling software were used to produce models of teeth that were too complex for traditional molding and casting techniques.
Evolutionary stasis has often been explained by stabilizing selection, intrinsic constraints, or, more recently, by spatially patterned population dynamics. To distinguish which of these mechanisms explains a given case of stasis in the fossil record, stasis must first be rigorously documented in a high-resolution stratigraphic time series of fossil specimens. Furthermore, past studies of evolutionary mode in fossil mammalian lineages have often been limited to univariate traits (e.g., molar crown area). It is reasonable to assume that tooth shape, a multivariate trait, reflects important additional aspects of tooth form and function. Here we present the results of a geometric morphometric analysis of the lower dentition of the Paleocene-Eocene condylarth species Ectocion osbornianus collected from the Bighorn and Clarks Fork Basins of northwestern Wyoming. Tooth margin shape, cusp configuration, and shearing crest shape were digitized for the last lower premolar, p4, and for two lower molars, m1 and m3. Multivariate statistical tests of evolutionary mode were used to analyze the change in shape variance over time in addition to the magnitude and direction of shape change. Test results characterize the shape time series as consisting of counteracting changes with less change than expected under a random walk (i.e., stasis). The temporal structure of shape variance implies that the sampled E. osbornianus most likely represent a single population, which is not concordant with the population dynamic mechanism of stasis. Stabilizing selection and/or intrinsic constraints remain as the mechanisms that could explain stasis in the lower dental shape of E. osbornianus despite the variable environmental conditions of the Paleocene–Eocene.
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