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jueves, 11 de junio de 2009

Century-Old Taxidermy Yields Clues to Climate Future

BERKELEY, California — A hundred years ago, zoologist Joseph Grinnell was thinking about you. Long before ENIAC or ARPANET, the visionary first director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California-Berkeley was focused on preserving data for future generations.

He and other research biologists fanned out across California trapping and preserving the animals of the state. With famously rigorous attention to detail, Grinnell recorded every possible piece of information about each specimen. He was known to exhort his colleagues to “put it all down.” It’s like he could see the spreadsheets of the future forming in his head.

After the lapse of many years, possibly a century, the student of the future will have access to the original record of faunal conditions in California,” Grinnell once said.

Those records now form an incredibly valuable dataset that just keeps appreciating. Jim Patton, director emeritus of the Museum, and a new team of research biologists have been hitting the fields of California to replicate Grinnell’s earlier study of the “faunal conditions” of the state. By comparing where thousands of species used to be found to where they live now, we can see how ecological change, most notably global warming, is pushing animals around.

Fifty percent of the animals they’ve surveyed, like the Pixar-cute pinyon mouse, have experienced some kind of range shift. On average, these animals have had to move 1,500 feet farther up mountains to continue living in the temperature conditions for which they evolved. Patton, who bears a striking resemblance to Grinnell, warned that some animals, like the lodgepole chipmunk, will run out of room to shift upwards if — or really, when — global warming continues.

“If it continues to march upward, [the chipmunk] is going to disappear because it’s going to get pushed off the mountain,” Patton said.

In this video, Patton explains how Grinnell’s detailed notes translate to his own research .

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