Fossil Sirenians Give Scientists New Look at Ancient Climate
Change view of water temperature during time when first modern mammals emerged
What tales they tell of their former lives, these old bones of sirenians, relatives of today’s dugongs and manatees.
And now, geologists have found, they tell of the waters in which they swam.
While researching the evolutionary ecology of ancient sirenians–commonly known as sea cows–scientist Mark Clementz and colleagues unexpectedly stumbled across data that could change the view of climate during the Eocene Epoch, some 50 million years ago.
Clementz, from the University of Wyoming, published the results in a paper in this week’s issue of the journal Science.
He and co-author Jacob Sewall of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania used their findings to dispute a popular scientific assumption about the temperature and composition of seawater during the time marked by the emergence of the first modern mammals.
The Sirenia, named for the sirens or mermaids of Greek myth, is an order of aquatic, plant-eating mammals that live in swamps, rivers, estuaries, marine wetlands and coastal waters.