Wednesday, 19 August 2015

How dogs evolved with climate change

AUGUST 18, 2015

by Chuck Bednar

As temperatures in North American cooled and conditions became dryer over the past 40 million years, dogs slowly evolved from creatures that would ambush their prey to the modern wolf-like ones capable of tracking their prey for an entire day, a new study has found.

By studying fossils dating back to the beginnings of those changes, Brown University ecology and evolutionary biology professor Christine Janis and Borja Figueirido, a professor at Spain’s Universidad de M├ílaga, found evidence that these predatory creatures are sensitive to climate change.

The reason, they explained, is because it alters the hunting opportunities present in their habitats. In the case of canines, fossils indicate that they were originally small creatures that looked more like mongooses than modern dogs, and had forelimbs that were not yet fully adapted for running. Part of the reason for this was that dogs primarily called the forest their home.

As the climate cooled over time and the Rocky Mountains reached a growth threshold that caused the continental interior to become drier, those forests eventually faded away and gave rise to grasslands. In a study published this week in Nature Communication, the authors reported on their efforts to measure the impact this transition had on dogs and other carnivores.

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