Rare Primate Found in Nebraska Is a Clues to the Future

  • November 13, 2023

Fossils found in Nebraska have previously been linked to bones from China, revealing how one species of wild animal survived millions of years after the extinction of its local relatives and establishing a blueprint for how species bridge the gap to a changing climate.

Paleontologists from the University of Kansas and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing, have published their findings about how Ekgmowechashala came to North America millions of years after the disappearance of similar species from the Earth.

Ekgmowechashala is a species found to bridge the gap between the North American apes that disappeared during the great cooling event 34 million years ago and the arrival of the Clovis people, one of the oldest known cultures in North America.

The findings are published in the Journal of Human Evolution On Monday. The results gave scientists clues about how a species can thrive when its environment is disrupted by a changing climate—a challenge that humans face today.

Illustration of Ekgmowechashala, the last ape to live in North America before humans. These species migrated to North America after other species of wild animals disappeared from the continent when the great cooling took place.

Kristen Tietjen, University of Kansas

During this project, researchers compared Ekgmowechashala fossils from North America with fossils from Palaeohodites—another type of animal found in China, according to a University of Kansas report. The fossils of Palaeohodites were discovered in the 1990s by study co-author Chris Beard.

The results showed that the animals were closely related and revealed that Ekgmowechashala was a primate, something that had puzzled researchers for years given that the fossils placed the species in North America 30 million years ago—4 million years after all other foxes disappeared. the continent. The changing climate made the region cooler and drier and therefore less resistant to earlier species.

The discovery showed that Ekgmowechashala did not somehow survive the massive cooling event that caused drought conditions in North America. Instead, the ancestors of these species migrated to North America through the Beringian region that once connected Asia and North America millions of years after foxes disappeared from the latter.

“Our analysis refutes the idea that Ekgmowechashala is a remnant or survivor of earlier settlements in North America,” said Kathleen Rust, a doctoral candidate at the Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas and co-author of the study.

“Instead, it was an immigrant species that came from Asia and moved to North America during a surprisingly cool period, probably through Beringia.”

This discovery, published in Monday’s paper, shows that Ekgmowechashala is a good example of the Lazarus effect, where a certain type of fossils appear long after their relatives have died, according to the report.

The discovery also sheds light on how species cope with drastic environmental changes that make their home inhospitable—by moving to more hospitable places.

Rust said the research is important for learning how past organisms responded to major climate and environmental changes.

“In such situations, organisms tend to adapt by returning to more hospitable environments with available resources or face extinction,” he said.

“Approximately 34 million years ago, all the apes in North America were unable to adapt and survive. North America did not have the necessary conditions to survive. This emphasizes the importance of accessible resources to our non-human relatives in times of major climate change. .”

In addition to laying the blueprint for how species can survive major environmental changes in the future, the discovery also closes an important gap in human evolution, after the Clovis people arrived in North America 25 million years after the disappearance of Ekgmowechashala.

“Understanding this narrative is not only humbling but also helps us appreciate the depth and complexity of the changing planet we live on,” Rust said. “It allows us to grasp the complex workings of nature, the power of evolution in causing life and the influence of environmental factors.”