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通过结晶尿液推测古代的气候变化

时间:2011-01-05 22:50 点击:
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莱斯特年夜学的科学家发现了一种研究非洲南部古代天色转变的新体例,即经由过程研究史前动物的尿液推出天色转变。

一般而言,研究者经由过程研究诸如池沼和湖泊这类潮湿地域的沉积物来猜测古代的情形模式。因为那些处所是寻找有机蜗质的理想场所,这些有机物质保留了数个世纪,可用来断定年月及用于科学研究。

可是在南非沙漠这种尘多、干旱的多岩石地域,很难碰着池沼和湖泊。然而,科学家找到了一种揭示该地域的天色转变历史奥秘的体例,其拭魅这种体例就潜匿在已酿成化石的尿液里。.

这种化石尿液来自非洲蹄兔,非洲蹄兔是一种在中东、非洲北部浊洲南部这些干旱地带常见的物种。尽管这种笼盖毛皮的动物看起来像年夜鼠,可是有些研究者认为,在现存的物种中,蹄兔事实上是年夜象比来的亲属(关于这点科学上存在激烈的争论)。遗传物质DNA的证据剖明,年夜该物种的脚趾甲、獠牙和极好的记忆力揣度,蹄兔极有可能是年夜象家族中的一个小成员。

更主要的是,蹄兔也用固定的处所作为公共嚣张所。它们往往祖祖辈辈都在统一个处所渗出尿液,这些处所年夜而成钪啃究天色转变的理想尝试台。经由数千年,那些尿液不竭结晶并聚积堆集成科学家所谓的"粪堆"。

收集这些粪堆并不简单--这些粪堆往往深埋在岩石内部,科学家要沿绳滑下并用角锉劈开才能获得--可是一旦收集到,便可经由过程法医手艺识别出单个的有机单元,该体例甚至能识别出经由蹄兔消化系统的分子。

这些信息供给了关于那时动物饮食习惯的线索,提醒了四周植物的类型,反过来我们便可以知道在曩昔的两万年迈该地域的天色发生了若何的转变。此刻,研究者们已经起头拼集出两万多年前的上一次冰河世纪之后,该地域发生了若何的强烈转变。

译文:Tracking ancient climate change with crystallised urine


Scientists at the University of Leicester have found a novel way to study the ancient climate change of southern Africa: by investigating the urine of prehistoric animals.

Researchers typically study ancient environmental patterns by acquiring deposits from damp or wet areas like bogs and lakes. Those sorts of locations are perfect for finding organic matter which has been preserved for centuries, and can be dated and used for study.

But in the dusty, dry areas of a rocky south African desert, bogs and lakes are hard to come by. Instead, the scientists have now found another way of uncovering the secrets of the area's climatological past, hidden away in fossilised urine.

The helpful substance comes from the rock hyrax, a species common to dry places like the Middle East and northern and southern Africa. While the furry creature looks like a big rat, it’s thought by some camps (there's a fiery scientific debate) that the hyrax is actually the closest living relative to the elephant. Alongside DNA evidence, the creature’s toenails, tusks and excellent memory make it a good candidate for being a tiny member of the elephant family.

More importantly, they also use very specific areas as communal toilets. Sometimes, they use the same location for generations to deposit their urine, making it a perfect test bed for research on climate change. Over thousands of years, that urine crystallises and builds up in accumulations that the scientists refer to as "middens".

Collecting the substance is no easy task -- the middens are typically embedded deep within the rock, requiring a scientist to abseil down and cut it out with an angle grinder -- but once gathered, forensic techniques are used to identify the individual organic modules, right down to the molecules that passed through the hyraxes’ digestive system.

This information provide clues on what the animals were eating, indicating the types of plants that were around, which in turn shows how a region’s climate has altered over the past 30,000 years. The researchers are already starting to piece together how the area changed drastically following the last ice age, around 20,000 years ago.


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