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Middens (nests and caches) of Late Pleistocene arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii) that are preserved in the permafrost of Beringia archive valuable paleoecological data. Arctic ground squirrels selectively include the plant material placed in middens. To account for this selectivity bias, we used a multi-proxy approach that includes ancient DNA (aDNA) and macro- and microfossil analyses. Here, we provide insight into Pleistocene vegetation conditions using macrofossils, pollen, phytoliths and non-pollen palynomorphs, and aDNA collected from one such midden from the Yukon Territory (Canada), which was formed between 30,740 and 30,380 cal yr BP. aDNA confirmed the midden was constructed by U. parryii. We recovered 39 vascular plant and bryophyte genera and 68 fungal genera from the midden samples. Grass and other herbaceous families dominated vegetation assemblages according to all proxies. aDNA data yielded several records of vascular plants that are outside their current biogeographic range, while some of the recovered fungi yielded additional evidence for local occurrence of Picea trees during glacial conditions. We propose that future work on fossil middens should combine the study of macro- and microfossils with aDNA analysis to get the most out of these environmental archives.
Humans colonized the Balearic Islands 5–4 ka ago. They arrived in a uniquely adapted ecosystem with the Balearic mountain goat Myotragus balearicus (Bovidae, Antilopinae, Caprini) as the only large mammal. This mammal went extinct rapidly after human arrival. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the extinction of M. balearicus. For the present study ancient DNA analysis (Sanger sequencing, Roche-454, Ion Torrent), and pollen and macrofossil analyses were performed on preserved coprolites from M. balearicus, providing information on its diet and paleo-environment. The information retrieved shows that M. balearicus was heavily dependent on the Balearic box species Buxus balearica during at least part of the year, and that it was most probably a browser. Hindcast ecological niche modelling of B. balearica shows that local distribution of this plant species was affected by climate changes. This suggests that the extinction of M. balearicus can be related to the decline and regional extinction of a plant species that formed a major component of its diet. The vegetation change is thought to be caused by increased aridity occurring throughout the Mediterranean. Previous hypotheses relating the extinction of M. balearicus directly to the arrival of humans on the islands must therefore be adjusted.
Part of a large male woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) was preserved in permafrost in northern Yakutia. It was radiocarbon dated to ca. 18,50014C yr BP (ca. 22,500 cal yr BP). Dung from the lower intestine was subjected to a multiproxy array of microscopic, chemical, and molecular techniques to reconstruct the diet, the season of death, and the paleoenvironment. Pollen and plant macro-remains showed that grasses and sedges were the main food, with considerable amounts of dwarf willow twigs and a variety of herbs and mosses. Analyses of 110-bp fragments of the plastid rbcL gene amplified from DNA and of organic compounds supplemented the microscopic identifications. Fruit-bodies of dung-inhabiting Ascomycete fungi which develop after at least one week of exposure to air were found inside the intestine. Therefore the mammoth had eaten dung. It was probably mammoth dung as no bile acids were detected among the fecal biomarkers analysed. The plant assemblage and the presence of the first spring vessels of terminal tree-rings of dwarf willows indicated that the animal died in early spring. The mammoth lived in extensive cold treeless grassland vegetation interspersed with wetter, more productive meadows. The study demonstrated the paleoecological potential of several biochemical analytical techniques.
In several eastern Mediterranean countries orchids are collected from the wild for the production of salep, a beverage made of dried orchid tubers. The drivers of this collection and trade have changed over time. We investigated which genera and species are harvested for salep production, whether any cultivation takes place, the chain of commercialization, and the economic value of tuber collection. Fieldwork and interviews in north-western Greece included 25 collectors and street vendors, the owners of two companies, and one herbal shop. The results show that several orchid species are traded for the production of salep, and none are cultivated. Tubers collected in Greece, Albania and Turkey are sold in northern Greece for EUR 55–150 per kg on average. Recent catalysts such as the increasing demand for traditional, organic and alternative foodstuffs, and the 2009 economic downturn, have led to a revival of salep consumption, with an increasing number of salep harvesters from Greece and Albania scouring the mountains for harvestable tubers, using unsustainable harvesting practices.
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