Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Yellowstone Elk Bones Reflect Spatial Landuse

Good news for fossil folks! Something that keeps people like me awake at night is pondering the degree to which the spatial patterning of fossils on the landscapes where we find them are meaningful.  This is because in order to reconstruct past environments from fossils, we have to assume (at least to some degree) that the spatial provenience of fossils contains information about where the individual animals lived (even though we know that bones get moved around after death by many biologic and geologic processes),

Modern hyaena bone accumlation on landscape in Dikika - Ethiopia

In an article in preview in the journal Ecology, Joshua Miller reports the results of a study in which he analyzed the distribution of elk skeletal remains (shed antlers and neonate remains) across Yellowstone National Park. The spatial distribution of shed antlers was as good at predicting bull elk geographic use as aerial surveys, and neonate bones were great predictors of known calving areas. This study demonstrates that these large ungulates tend to die where they lived, and that the spatial patterning of their skeletal remains is a high fidelity proxy for their land use patterns. Good news!

Full Citation:
Miller, J. (2012). Spatial fidelity of skeletal remains: Elk wintering and calving grounds revealed by bones on the Yellowstone landscape Ecology DOI: 10.1890/12-0272.1