Fossils provide new clues to Tibetan Plateau’s evolution

The bones of ancient rhinos, elephants, and fish constrain when the Tibetan Plateau rose high enough to prevent migration, a move that forced animals to adapt to high-altitude conditions. Called the Rooftop of the World, the Tibetan Plateau perches high above the surrounding terrain, surpassed only by the Himalayan mountains that mark its southern border. But when and how the plateau reached its high elevation has remained unclear.

For one scientist and his team, tracing the evolution of the Tibetan Plateau now has a much-needed clue: vertebrate fossils — woolly rhinos, shovel-tusked elephants, and climbing perch, to be precise. Read more.

Big cat diets: Whisker isotopes track prey

Many people will have heard of the concept of measuring drugs in human hair to expose drug use over time, a technique that is becoming well known and well established in forensic and clinical circles. It is made possible by the fact the hair matrix is inert, so once a drug enters through the blood supply to the follicle, it remains at the same position as the hair grows. This property allows the pattern of drug use of an individual to be deciphered over weeks and months by analysing short segments of hair in sequence.

What is less well known is the application of the same technique to the whiskers of animals. Read more.

Earwax like ice cores — unlocking the past hidden in whale earplugs

Farzaneh Mansouri’s future data collectors are cruising around oceans worldwide, following blooms of productivity and accumulating decades of information — all in their earwax. Mansouri, an environmental scientist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, studies the wax “earplugs” built up over years in sealed whale ear canals. The earplugs, according to her findings, provide records of the animals’ movements and diets over the course of their long lives. Read more.

Make way for megamarsupials: the migration of Australia’s extinct megafauna

Diprotodon was the largest marsupial ever to live. New evidence shows it migrated annually – and could make us reassess what we know of other extinct marsupials

Perhaps nowhere is the debate regarding the causes of megafaunal extinction more prominent than in Australia. During the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs, a magnificent suite of giant marsupials (mammals who carry their young in a pouch), reptiles and birds roamed Australia, only to meet their demise at the end of the Pleistocene. Why these behemoths disappeared has been, and continues to be, the subject of extensive discussions.

Much of the debate revolves around the timings of megafaunal extinctions, the arrival and spread of modern humans in Australia, and the role of climate change. Read more.