Project Report

It is important to understand the natural history of a place, including deep time, because we may be able to extrapolate lessons from the past and learn from history. As is currently evident, the world’s weather is becoming ever more erratic and unpredictable, along with a warming trend. Biologists today can only guess what kind of effects that this changing climate will have on the ecology of living organisms. By looking into the past, we can reconstruct ancient communities through time using fossils and see how they changed along with the evolving climate. The Pleistocene or "Ice Age" presents an excellent opportunity for study because many of the small animal fossils are also alive today, so they can be observed in their modern habitats. Small animals are great for studying environments because their home ranges are small and sometimes very specific. Many caves around the world are like time capsules which record the local animals and preserve them perfectly until excavation. This project will attempt to use small mammal fossils to indicate past climate in Southern China. Not only will the work bring us one step closer to understanding climate change in modern ecosystems, but this project will also help to establish the environmental context of human evolution in the region. Homo sapiens Cave is named after a very important fossil, which is a lower jaw of a modern human that is about 100,000 years old. Human fossils alone cannot signal what type of environment early man inhabited, but small mammal fossils have the potential to indicate environments. Thus, the exceptional preservation of fossil material within Homo sapiens Cave allows for reconstruction of past climate using the small mammals of the cave. This work will mark an important discovery in the fields of both paleontology and human evolution. The small mammals seem to indicate a mix of wet and dry habitat components, but analysis of further caves of various ages is required to understand how the climate recorded at Homo sapiens Cave fits into the larger picture of climatic fluctuations throughout the Pleistocene of southern China.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Office of International and Integrative Activities (IIA)
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Carter Kimsey
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Giesler Amanda K
United States
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