Ignacius dawsonae, who survived six months of winter darkness in the extinct warm temperate ecosystem of Ellesmere Island, Arctic Canada, is recreated by Kristen Miller, from the University of Kansas.
According to a research published today (January 25, 2023) in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Kristen Miller of the University of Kansas and colleagues, early primate relatives adapted to life in the high Arctic, although with limited biodiversity.
Despite half the year spent in Arctic winter darkness, fossils from Ellesmere Island, Canada, reveal a warm, swamp-like environment 52 million years ago. In this study, Miller and colleagues identify two new species, the first primate relatives ever discovered from this ancient Arctic ecosystem.
The researchers studied jaws and teeth from ancient primates, which they have named Ignacius dawsonae and Ignacius mckennai. Both species are relatively large, a common trait in northern mammals, and both have dental features that suggest a diet of hard food items during long, dark Arctic winters when softer foods were scarce.
The lower elevations of North America provided many early primate relatives during the Eocene, but only two species remain from this Arctic community, adding to previous evidence that this ecosystem had less biodiversity compared to more southern habitats. Such insights are critical for future predictions about how ecosystems might respond to changing weather conditions.
"Global warming is altering Arctic ecosystems in ways that are difficult to predict, but ancient episodes of global warming illustrate how future changes in the Arctic may unfold," according to the authors. "These tropically adapted mammals were able to colonize the Arctic during an ancient episode of global warming approximately 52 million years ago by eating a new diet of nuts and seeds."
“Basal Primatomorpha colonized Ellesmere Island (Arctic Canada) during the hyperthermal conditions of the early Eocene climatic optimum,” according to the publication on 25 January 2023, PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0280114.