Animals, Environment, News, Science

Ancient Beetle Fossils Helping Scientists Understand Global Warming

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The map shows how much warmer temperatures were in 2000-2009 compared to average temperatures recorded between 1951 and 1980. The most extreme warming, shown in red, was in the Arctic. Image: NASA
The map shows how much warmer temperatures were in 2000-2009 compared to average temperatures recorded between 1951 and 1980. The most extreme warming, shown in red, was in the Arctic. Image: NASA

This article was originally published on TKN June 23, 2014.

Beetle fossils found in an ancient lake bed in British Columbia are helping scientists to understand global warming in the past and the present.

Fossilized palm bruchine beetles were discovered at the McAbee fossil site near Cache Creek, B.C., by scientists from Simon Fraser University.

The McAbee site contains fossilized remains of plants animals that lived near the lake 50 million years ago, during a period called the Eocene epoch. Wind and rivers carried leaves, flowers, seeds and insects into the lake. Then they sank to the bottom and were preserved in the sediment of the lake bed.

Fossil records show how plants, animals and ecosystems evolve over time. When conditions such as climate or landscape change, plants and animals must either adapt to the changes or migrate to a new location in order to survive. The story of what happened can be seen in the fossils left behind.

The palm beetle fossils found at the McAbee site were an important discovery because they helped scientists determine what the climate in central British Columbia was like during the early Eocene epoch.

The beetles feed only on the seeds of palm trees. Palm trees can only grow where winters are mild – above 8°C – and frost free, so they are an important clue to the climate of an ecosystem. But fossils of palm trees can be difficult to find and identify.

Finding the palm beetle fossils told scientists that, 50 million years ago, the climate in central British Columbia was warm enough for palm trees to grow.

During the early part of the Eocene epoch, from about 56 million years ago to about 49 million years ago, the Earth’s climate warmed rapidly and there were high levels of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

This is similar to changes we are experiencing today, so learning about the Eocene climate can help scientists understand modern global warming and the effect it could have on the environment.

Related Sites

The Virtual Fossil Museum
Some great fossil-related activities.
How geology indicates past climates.
Climate change and Ice Age mammal fossils from the La Brea Tar Pits.

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
This article helps readers to understand what animals and their environments may have looked like approximately 50 million years ago. Using information from the article, independent research and your imagination, draw an image of what you think your community looked like 50 million years ago.

Reading Prompt: Extending Understanding
The last sentence in the article states, “This is similar to changes we are experiencing today, so learning about the Eocene climate can help scientists understand modern global warming and the effect it could have on the environment.”

Make a connection between changes that occurred during the Eocene epoch (about 50 million years ago) and today. How can scientists better understand global warming and the environment by looking into the past?

 Junior
Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Intermediate
Extend understanding of texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Language Feature: Reading Unfamiliar Words
Often scientific articles contain words that may be new or unfamiliar. Read the article and circle all the words that you don’t know. What strategies do you use to figure out how to say the word? How can you figure out what the word means?