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Fermenting ferns? Rare dinosaur stomach fossil opens door to ancient world – Lethbridge News Now

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The dining dinosaur was first unearthed in 2011 in a northern Alberta Suncor oilsands mine, where many excavators have learned to look for fossils as they dig. When this one turned up, a crew from the Tyrrell followed shortly afterward.

It was an amazingly well-preserved ankylosaur from the early Cretaceous period. Low but large — the species could reach eight metres long and weigh eight tonnes — the fossil took two weeks to remove.

It then took 5 1/2 years for technician Mark Mitchell to clean and prepare it, which is why the species now bears the Latin name markmitchelli. The restored specimen, complete with body armour and outer skin, was remarkable enough for a 2017 National Geographic magazine feature.  

But for paleontologists, the fun was just starting. They began looking at a fossilized structure that co-author Jim Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan described as looking like a “squashed basketball.”

It was in the right place for a stomach and it held gastroliths, small stones dinosaurs used to help digest their food, much as some birds do today.

“There’s a great mess of them and they’re quite distinctive,” said Basinger.

The scientists eventually compiled 16 pieces of evidence that the squashed basketball was, in fact, a stomach.  

“It’s unquestionable,” Basinger said.

There are only two other fossilized stomachs in the world that scientists are this sure about. Neither opens doors to the past the way this one does.

About 80 per cent of this last meal was a particular species of ferns. The fossils are so well preserved their spores identify them.

There are bits of other plants and twigs so immaculate that their growth rings are being used to estimate weather at the time. And there is charcoal from burned woody material.

Brown points out ferns aren’t that nutritious. A beast this size would need digestion capable of getting the most from them.

That means this dinosaur may have fermented its food, much like many animals today.

“All big herbivores today use some form of fermentation,” Brown said. “For this animal, it was almost certainly fermenting those ferns.”

Which raises other interesting questions: How much fermented fern does it take to move an eight-tonne lizard? How much energy might it need? Where might that much fodder be found?

The charcoal provides a clue. It probably came from an ancient forest fire where ferns would have been abundant in the first flush of new growth, much as they are today.

“(The dinosaur) was taking advantage of a charred landscape,” Basinger said. Many modern animals do the same, chowing down on tender, nutritious and low-hanging new growth that follows the flames.

More than just reassembling skeletons, modern paleontology is starting to rebuild ecosystems that haven’t existed for millions and millions of years.

“That’s something we can start playing with,” Brown said. 

The fossils tell individual stories, too.

Basinger said, given the undigested contents of its stomach, this ankylosaur died quickly. It was surrounded by marine fossils, and researchers believe it slipped or fell into a large river, where it drowned and was swept out to sea.

“Whatever happened to the poor dinosaur, it would have happened pretty fast after it had eaten.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020

— Follow at @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Grizzly bears in the dark as they try to share living space with humans: study – Medicine Hat News

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By Bob Weber, The Canadian Press on July 7, 2020.

A grizzly bear roams an exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo, closed for nearly three months because of the coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Seattle. Grizzly bears are doing their best to get along with people, but it still isn’t enough. Newly published research assessing more than 40 years of data concludes that without large wilderness areas to replenish their numbers, the bears would disappear from landscapes they share with humans. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Elaine Thompson

EDMONTON – Grizzly bears are doing their best to get along with people, but it still isn’t enough.

Newly published research concludes that without large wilderness areas to replenish their numbers, grizzlies would disappear from landscapes they share with humans.

“The persistence of bears near people, when we see them along highways or near towns, they’re really propped up by the fact they exist near some sort of secure wilderness,” said Clayton Lamb, a University of Alberta biologist and lead author of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers found bears in populated areas in Alberta and British Columbia have even changed how they hunt in an attempt to share living space with humans.

“The bears are doing what they can,” Lamb said. “The difference might have to be made up by us.”

The study set out to examine an emerging phenomenon in wildlife conservation – large carnivores re-establishing themselves on mixed landscapes including cities, highways, rural communities and patchworks of natural habitat.

It digested 41 years worth of mortality, movement and demography among 2,669 grizzlies over nearly 400,000 square kilometres of British Columbia.

It found mortality has increased steeply with the amount of human impact measured through an index that includes human population, land use, infrastructure, coastlines, roads, railroads and navigable rivers.

Deaths have outnumbered births and the difference is being made up through emigration of young grizzlies from nearby wilderness. For every point the index increases, a local bear population must increase the number of individuals it draws by about two per cent.

“Grizzly bear range is quite tied to the distance from some secure piece of wilderness,” said Lamb.

That’s despite the grizzlies’ efforts to adapt to humans. The study found young, newly arrived bears gradually learned ways to avoid contact, such as hunting and gathering at night.

Adolescent bears in areas dominated by humans have increased their nocturnal time by up to three per cent annually, which has led to corresponding increases in survival. The cost, however, is steep.

The scientists found it takes 14 years for a grizzly to learn how to co-exist with humans. For every bear that makes it, 29 don’t.

“A lot of those bears would have been born on a mountaintop 10 kilometres away and lived with mom in an avalanche chute and lived a normal bear life,” Lamb said.

“Then they find a home near town and get lured in by an apple tree. The gauntlet they have to run is very difficult.”

The study shows that high mortality has impacts far from where the deaths take place. Bears dying in mixed-used areas draws more grizzlies from the wilderness to take their place.

“Conflicts with people have rippling effects on (bear) populations far removed,” Lamb said.

Highway overpasses are one good way to reduce deaths, he suggests. But humans living with bears have to get better at removing attractants such as roadkill or fruit trees to end the bears’ constant, often fatal, migration from the wilderness.

“We’re not quite there,” said Lamb. “The system relies quite heavily on adjacent wilderness.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2020

– Follow @row1960 on Twitter

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Odd pink snow in the Alps is pretty, but it might also be a red flag – CNET

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Pink Snow as seen in the Presena glacier.


Miguel Medina/Getty Images

Pink snow, also called “watermelon snow,” has appeared at the Presena glacier in northern Italy, according to researcher Biagio Di Mauro of the Institute of Polar Sciences at Italy’s National Research Council. While it’s not uncommon for the Italian alps to be “pretty in pink” in spring and summer, scientists become cautious when the phenomenon, which is caused by algae, starts happening more frequently. 

Di Mauro told CNN that 2020’s lack of snowfall and higher temperatures have nurtured the algae’s growth. More algae could lead to ice melting faster.

When Di Mauro tweeted clarification for an article from The Guardian, he said the algae was probably Chlamydomonas nivalis, a snow algae. He also said the algae’s relationship with climate change hasn’t been proven yet. 

Di Mauro tweeted photos of the pink snow on Monday.

Across the ocean, in late May, Antarctica reported green snow, caused by microscopic algae. Though microscopic, the green blooms could be spotted by satellites. The color might also have connections with the impact of warming climates, researchers said.


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Grizzly bears in the dark as they try to share living space with humans: study – BarrieToday

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EDMONTON — Grizzly bears are doing their best to get along with people, but it still isn’t enough.

Newly published research concludes that without large wilderness areas to replenish their numbers, grizzlies would disappear from landscapes they share with humans.

“The persistence of bears near people, when we see them along highways or near towns, they’re really propped up by the fact they exist near some sort of secure wilderness,” said Clayton Lamb, a University of Alberta biologist and lead author of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers found bears in populated areas in Alberta and British Columbia have even changed how they hunt in an attempt to share living space with humans.

“The bears are doing what they can,” Lamb said. “The difference might have to be made up by us.”

The study set out to examine an emerging phenomenon in wildlife conservation — large carnivores re-establishing themselves on mixed landscapes including cities, highways, rural communities and patchworks of natural habitat.

It digested 41 years worth of mortality, movement and demography among 2,669 grizzlies over nearly 400,000 square kilometres of British Columbia.

It found mortality has increased steeply with the amount of human impact measured through an index that includes human population, land use, infrastructure, coastlines, roads, railroads and navigable rivers.

Deaths have outnumbered births and the difference is being made up through emigration of young grizzlies from nearby wilderness. For every point the index increases, a local bear population must increase the number of individuals it draws by about two per cent.

“Grizzly bear range is quite tied to the distance from some secure piece of wilderness,” said Lamb.

That’s despite the grizzlies’ efforts to adapt to humans. The study found young, newly arrived bears gradually learned ways to avoid contact, such as hunting and gathering at night.

Adolescent bears in areas dominated by humans have increased their nocturnal time by up to three per cent annually, which has led to corresponding increases in survival. The cost, however, is steep. 

The scientists found it takes 14 years for a grizzly to learn how to co-exist with humans. For every bear that makes it, 29 don’t. 

“A lot of those bears would have been born on a mountaintop 10 kilometres away and lived with mom in an avalanche chute and lived a normal bear life,” Lamb said.

“Then they find a home near town and get lured in by an apple tree. The gauntlet they have to run is very difficult.”

The study shows that high mortality has impacts far from where the deaths take place. Bears dying in mixed-used areas draws more grizzlies from the wilderness to take their place. 

“Conflicts with people have rippling effects on (bear) populations far removed,” Lamb said. 

Highway overpasses are one good way to reduce deaths, he suggests. But humans living with bears have to get better at removing attractants such as roadkill or fruit trees to end the bears’ constant, often fatal, migration from the wilderness.  

“We’re not quite there,” said Lamb. “The system relies quite heavily on adjacent wilderness.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2020

— Follow @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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