Woolly rhinos and ice ages, video


This 30 May 2019 video says about itself:

The History of Climate Cycles (and the Woolly Rhino) Explained

Throughout the Pleistocene Epoch, the range of the woolly rhino grew and shrank in sync with global climate. So what caused the climate — and the range of the woolly rhino — to cycle back and forth between such extremes?

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Pleistocene wolf discovery in Siberia


This 11 June 2019 video says about itself:

Russia: Immaculately-preserved wolf head found in Siberia

The head of a giant Pleistocene wolf was discovered in the Abyisky district in the north of Yakutia in July 2018 as footage released on Monday shows.

Video made in July 2018 shows the site of the discovery and the wolf’s head immediately after the glacial-age creature was excavated by local mineral developers. It is reportedly the first ever remains of a fully grown Pleistocene wolf with tissue this well preserved.

“We have already found wolves’ heads without soft tissues or fur, but this one even has ears and a tongue. The brain was perfectly preserved, which was confirmed by a CT scan”, Chief researcher of the Department of Mammoth Fauna Study of the Republic of Sakha Academy of Science Valery Plotnikov said, speaking in an interview on Monday.

According to a study conducted by Japanese scientists, the two to four-year-old wolf, whose fangs and fur are intact, is estimated to have died over 30,000 years ago. “The finding is unique,” Plotnikov said.

In 2015 and 2017, the remains of three cave lions were uncovered by the same group.

Flightless rails, extinction and survival


This 9 May 2019 video says about itself:

Extinct flightless bird came ‘back from the dead’ because of a quirky evolutionary process

A bird that had previously gone extinct came back to life thanks to a rare evolutionary process known as “iterative evolution.”

The white-throated rail bird can presently be found on the island of Aldabra. Early fossils of the bird suggest it lived there thousands of years ago and died out because it could not fly to higher ground when rising sea levels threatened its safety. But thanks to “iterative evolution,” which evolves similar body parts due to genetics from a similar ancestor, the bird came back from the dead.

From the University of Portsmouth in England:

The bird that came back from the dead

May 9, 2019

New research has shown that the last surviving flightless species of bird, a type of rail, in the Indian Ocean had previously gone extinct but rose from the dead thanks to a rare process called ‘iterative evolution’.

The research, from the University of Portsmouth and Natural History Museum, found that on two occasions, separated by tens of thousands of years, a rail species was able to successfully colonise an isolated atoll called Aldabra and subsequently became flightless on both occasions. The last surviving colony of flightless rails is still found on the island today.

This is the first time that iterative evolution (the repeated evolution of similar or parallel structures from the same ancestor but at different times) has been seen in rails and one of the most significant in bird records.

The white-throated rail is a chicken-sized bird, indigenous to Madagascar in the south-western Indian Ocean. They are persistent colonisers of isolated islands, who would have frequent population explosions and migrate in great numbers from Madagascar. Many of those that went north or south drowned in the expanse of ocean and those that went west landed in Africa, where predators ate them. Of those that went east, some landed on the many ocean islands such as Mauritius, Reunion and Aldabra, the last-named is a ring-shaped coral atoll that formed around 400,000 years ago.

With the absence of predators on the atoll, and just like the Dodo of Mauritius, the rails evolved so that they lost the ability to fly. However, Aldabra disappeared when it was completely covered by the sea during a major inundation event around 136,000 years ago, wiping out all fauna and flora including the flightless rail.

The researchers studied fossil evidence from 100,000 years ago when the sea-levels fell during the subsequent ice age and the atoll was recolonised by flightless rails. The researchers compared the bones of a fossilised rail from before the inundation event with bones from a rail after the inundation event. They found that the wing bone showed an advanced state of flightlessness and the ankle bones showed distinct properties that it was evolving toward flightlessness.

This means that one species from Madagascar gave rise to two different species of flightless rail on Aldabra in the space of a few thousand years.

Lead researcher Dr Julian Hume, avian paleontologist and Research Associate at the Natural History Museum, said: “These unique fossils provide irrefutable evidence that a member of the rail family colonised the atoll, most likely from Madagascar, and became flightless independently on each occasion. Fossil evidence presented here is unique for rails, and epitomises the ability of these birds to successfully colonise isolated islands and evolve flightlessness on multiple occasions.”

Co-author Professor David Martill, from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, said: “We know of no other example in rails, or of birds in general, that demonstrates this phenomenon so evidently. Only on Aldabra, which has the oldest palaeontological record of any oceanic island within the Indian Ocean region, is fossil evidence available that demonstrates the effects of changing sea levels on extinction and recolonisation events.

“Conditions were such on Aldabra, the most important being the absence of terrestrial predators and competing mammals, that a rail was able to evolve flightlessness independently on each occasion.”

The study is published in the latest issue of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Denisovans, first hominins of Tibetan Plateau


This 2 May 2019 video is called Tibetan Monk Finds 160,000 Year-Old DENISOVAN Mandible,

From the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany:

First hominins on the Tibetan Plateau were Denisovans

Denisovan mandible likely represents the earliest hominin fossil on the Tibetan Plateau

May 1, 2019

Summary: So far Denisovans were only known from a small collection of fossil fragments from Denisova Cave in Siberia. A research team now describes a 160,000-year-old hominin mandible from Xiahe in China. Using ancient protein analysis the researchers found that the mandible’s owner belonged to a population that was closely related to the Denisovans from Siberia. This population occupied the Tibetan Plateau in the Middle Pleistocene and was adapted to this low-oxygen environment long before Homo sapiens arrived in the region.

Denisovans — an extinct sister group of Neandertals — were discovered in 2010, when a research team led by Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) sequenced the genome of a fossil finger bone found at Denisova Cave in Russia and showed that it belonged to a hominin group that was genetically distinct from Neandertals. “Traces of Denisovan DNA are found in present-day Asian, Australian and Melanesian populations, suggesting that these ancient hominins may have once been widespread,” says Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the Department of Human Evolution at the MPI-EVA. “Yet so far the only fossils representing this ancient hominin group were identified at Denisova Cave.”

Mandible from Baishiya Karst Cave

In their new study, the researchers now describe a hominin lower mandible that was found on the Tibetan Plateau in Baishiya Karst Cave in Xiahe, China. The fossil was originally discovered in 1980 by a local monk who donated it to the 6th Gung-Thang Living Buddha who then passed it on to Lanzhou University. Since 2010, researchers Fahu Chen and Dongju Zhang from Lanzhou University have been studying the area of the discovery and the cave site from where the mandible originated. In 2016, they initiated a collaboration with the Department of Human Evolution at the MPI-EVA and have since been jointly analysing the fossil.

While the researchers could not find any traces of DNA preserved in this fossil, they managed to extract proteins from one of the molars, which they then analysed applying ancient protein analysis. “The ancient proteins in the mandible are highly degraded and clearly distinguishable from modern proteins that may contaminate a sample,” says Frido Welker of the MPI-EVA and the University of Copenhagen. “Our protein analysis shows that the Xiahe mandible belonged to a hominin population that was closely related to the Denisovans from Denisova Cave.”

Primitive shape and large molars

The researchers found the mandible to be well-preserved. Its robust primitive shape and the very large molars still attached to it suggest that this mandible once belonged to a Middle Pleistocene hominin sharing anatomical features with Neandertals and specimens from the Denisova Cave. Attached to the mandible was a heavy carbonate crust, and by applying U-series dating to the crust the researchers found that the Xiahe mandible is at least 160,000 years old. Chuan-Chou Shen from the Department of Geosciences at National Taiwan University, who conducted the dating, says: “This minimum age equals that of the oldest specimens from the Denisova Cave.”

“The Xiahe mandible likely represents the earliest hominin fossil on the Tibetan Plateau,” says Fahu Chen, director of the Institute of Tibetan Research, CAS. These people had already adapted to living in this high-altitude low-oxygen environment long before Homo sapiens even arrived in the region. Previous genetic studies found present-day Himalayan populations to carry the EPAS1 allele in their genome, passed on to them by Denisovans, which helps them to adapt to their specific environment.

“Archaic hominins occupied the Tibetan Plateau in the Middle Pleistocene and successfully adapted to high-altitude low-oxygen environments long before the regional arrival of modern Homo sapiens,” says Dongju Zhang. According to Hublin, similarities with other Chinese specimens confirm the presence of Denisovans among the current Asian fossil record. “Our analyses pave the way towards a better understanding of the evolutionary history of Middle Pleistocene hominins in East Asia.”

Bat faeces and biodiversity in Indonesia


This 2015 video says about itself:

Bat Man of Borneo | Expedition Raw

Braving guano, urine, and infectious diseases is all in a day’s work for bat ecologist Donald McFarlane, who descends into the depths of Borneo’s Gomantong Caves [in Malaysia] to study the bats that live there.

From James Cook University in Australia:

Holy Pleistocene Batman, the answer’s in the cave

Let’s say you wanted to solve a 20,000-year-old mystery, where would you start?

April 25, 2019

Summary: Examining a 3-meter stack of bat feces has shed light on the landscape of the ancient continent of Sundaland. The research could help explain the biodiversity of present-day Borneo, Sumatra, and Java. It could also add to our understanding of how people moved through the region.

Let’s say you wanted to solve a 20,000-year-old mystery, where would you start? Perhaps archaeology and geology come to mind. Or, you could sift through a 3-metre pile of bat faeces.

Researchers from James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, chose the bat poo in their quest to answer to a long-standing question: why is there some much biodiversity on the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Java, when not so long ago (geologically speaking) they were all part of one vast continent?

One theory has been that the former continent (Sundaland) was dissected by a savanna corridor. “That might explain why Sumatra and Borneo each have their own species of orang-utan, even though they were linked by land for millions of years,” Dr Chris Wurster said. “The corridor would have divided the two separate rainforest refuges, as the sea does now.”

The corridor theory has been boosted by millions of insect-eating bats, which have gathered evidence about the landscape over millennia and deposited it in layers in their caves.

“Bat poo is highly informative, and especially so in the tropics, where the climate can make some of the more traditional modes of investigation less available,” Dr Wurster said.

A three-metre pile of bat faeces at Salah Cave in Borneo gave the researchers a 40,000-year-old record composed of insect skeletons.

“We can’t tell what insects the bats were eating throughout that time, because they’re in tiny fragments, but we can read the chemistry,” Dr Wurster said.

“Eating insects that have been feeding on tropical grasses results in faeces with a characteristic chemical imprint. It’s quite different from the result you’d get from eating insects that fed on tropical trees.”

According to the bat record the landscape around Saleh Cave (now featuring lush rainforest) was once dominated by tropical grasses.

“Combined with other cave studies in the region, this leads us to support the corridor theory, and also gives us some confidence as to the extent of the corridor,” Dr Wurster said.

The corridor could also shed light on human pre-history.

“A savanna corridor, which would be much more easily traversed than rainforest, might help to explain how people moved relatively quickly through this region and on to Australia and New Guinea.”

‘Savanna in equatorial Borneo during the late Pleistocene’ is published in the latest edition of Scientific Reports.

Dr Chris Wurster is a Senior Research Associate at James Cook University, specialising in stable isotope geochemistry.

Ancient Filipino human relatives discovery


This 10 April 2019 video says about itself:

New human species found in the Philippines

Scientists have found a few bones and seven teeth belonging to a previously unknown species of human. They’ve named the new species Homo luzonensis, after the island of Luzon in the Philippines where it was found. The bones are tiny, suggesting that Homo luzonensis was under 4 feet tall. That would make it the second species of diminutive human to be found in south-east Asia; in 2007 scientists announced the discovery of Homo floresiensis, found on the island of Flores in Indonesia and nicknamed the hobbit.

Both species lived around 50,000 years ago, at a time when Asia was also home to our species, the Neanderthals and a group called the Denisovans. The new species raises many questions, including who were its ancestors and how did it move?

Read the research paper here.

See also here. And here. And here.

Woolly mammoths’, Neanderthals’ Ice Age adaptations


This 2013 video is called A group of Neanderthals attack a herd of woolly mammoths.

From the American Friends of Tel Aviv University:

Woolly mammoths and Neanderthals may have shared genetic traits

Findings point to molecular resemblance in climate adaptation traits of the two species

April 8, 2019

A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that the genetic profiles of two extinct mammals with African ancestry — woolly mammoths, elephant-like animals that evolved in the Arctic peninsula of Eurasia around 600,000 years ago, and Neanderthals, highly skilled early humans who evolved in Europe around 400,000 years ago — shared molecular characteristics of adaptation to cold environments.

The research attributes the human-elephant relationship during the Pleistocene epoch to their mutual ecology and shared living environments, in addition to other possible interactions between the two species. The study was led by Prof. Ran Barkai and Meidad Kislev of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and published on April 8 in Human Biology.

“Neanderthals and mammoths lived together in Europe during the Ice Age. The evidence suggests that Neanderthals hunted and ate mammoths for tens of thousands of years and were actually physically dependent on calories extracted from mammoths for their successful adaptation,” says Prof. Barkai. “Neanderthals depended on mammoths for their very existence.

“They say you are what you eat. This was especially true of Neanderthals; they ate mammoths but were apparently also genetically similar to mammoths.”

To assess the degree of resemblance between mammoth and Neanderthal genetic components, the archaeologists reviewed three case studies of relevant gene variants and alleles — alternative forms of a gene that arise by mutation and are found at the same place on a chromosome — associated with cold-climate adaptation found in the genomes of both woolly mammoths and Neanderthals.

The first case study outlined the mutual appearance of the LEPR gene, related to thermogenesis and the regulation of adipose tissue and fat storage throughout the body. The second case study engaged genes related to keratin protein activity in both species. The third case study focused on skin and hair pigmentation variants in the genes MC1R and SLC7A11.

“Our observations present the likelihood of resemblance between numerous molecular variants that resulted in similar cold-adapted epigenetic traits of two species, both of which evolved in Eurasia from an African ancestor,” Kislev explains. “These remarkable findings offer supporting evidence for the contention regarding the nature of convergent evolution through molecular resemblance, in which similarities in genetic variants between adapted species are present.

“We believe these types of connections can be valuable for future evolutionary research. They’re especially interesting when they involve other large-brained mammals, with long life spans, complex social behavior and their interactions in shared habitats with early humans.”

According to the study, both species likely hailed from ancestors that came to Europe from Africa and adapted to living conditions in Ice Age Europe. The species also both became extinct more or less at the same time.

“It is now possible to try to answer a question no one has asked before: Are there genetic similarities between evolutionary adaptation paths in Neanderthals and mammoths?” Prof. Barkai says. “The answer seems to be yes. This idea alone opens endless avenues for new research in evolution, archaeology and other disciplines.

“At a time when proboscideans are under threat of disappearance from the world due to the ugly human greed for ivory, highlighting our shared history and similarities with elephants and mammoths might be a point worth taking into consideration.”