Fecal proxies

By Dulcinea Groff

Dung fungus spores of Sporormiella australis. From Funghi Paradise.

Dung fungus spores of Sporormiella australis. From Funghi Paradise.

Feces of prehistoric organisms remaining in the sediment records harbor information that can lead to a picturesque reconstruction of an ecosystem from long ago.  It is quite remarkable how many examples of fecal proxies exist and provide more information than just an indication of the presence or absence of an animal.  In the early 1800’s, an eccentric paleontologist named William Buckland was the first to describe coprolites or fossilized feces.  When feces become fossilized the organic components are replaced with minerals and any clue as to what the organism ate is replaced.  Therefore, coprolites may not be very useful in understanding the ecology of past environments and organisms.  Instead, other things associated with feces become proxies in paleoecological studies. Continue reading

Putting waste to work: Bat guano & packrat middens as sources for ecological proxies

By Griffin Dill

Paleoecology is a discipline deeply rooted in the use of proxies. In order to develop an understanding of past ecosystems and climatic events, paleoecologists utilize a number of biological proxies, including pollen data, plant macrofossils, diatoms, charcoal particles, and isotope geochemistry, to name a few. These proxies provide researchers with quantitative data that can be used to examine a myriad of environmental variables and reconstruct ancient ecological communities. Proxies can be obtained from a variety of sources, but are commonly acquired from lake sediments and peat bog profiles and to a lesser extent marine sediments. As research into the paleoecological record intensifies, additional proxies and previously untapped proxy sources are sought. An often underappreciated source of ecological data is now providing additional information to paleoecologists: animal waste. Continue reading