Pronghorns, Camels and Climate Change
Fraser is at the University of Wyoming, on a Fulbright scholarship, looking at the impact of global warming on the American Pronghorn, the fastest mammal found outside of Africa.
One of the reasons she came to study at Carleton University was access to Dr. Natalia Rybczynski, a research scientist at the Canadian Museum of Nature who helped discover the remains of the camel and an adjunct professor at Carleton.
“Dr. Rybczynski is an excellent evolutionary biologist and her experience has served to broaden the scope of my dissertation,” says Fraser.
“The discovery of a giant Arctic camel is indicative of warmer Arctic temperatures but also the evolution of modern Eurasian camels,” points out Fraser. “These camels dispersed from North America across the Bering land bridge and the discovery of Natalia and her colleagues is the first evidence of the camels that made the journey. Eurasian camel ancestry may therefore be traced to back to giant North American Arctic camels.”
Fraser chose to work with Pronghorns, “because their skeletons, ranging in age from the last ice age to now, are numerous in American and Canadian natural history collections. As a result of their frequency in collections and cosmopolitan distribution, we can test hypotheses concerning the spatial and temporal patterns of recent climate change in North America.”
Fraser and the Wyoming research team are measuring changes in the hard tissues (bones and teeth) of Pronghorns using stable isotopes.
One interesting result that has come out of the project so far is that the researchers found that tooth and bone do not seem to provide the same climate change signal which was assumed to be the case. “Our results will therefore inform the decision of which tissue to use in future studies,” says Fraser.
The grad student is also looking at other large mammals and their responses to climate change on matters such as body size, community structure, diet etc.
She wants to use her research to help generate comprehensive historical data on their responses to climate change and to include these data in models that predict their future response to modern global warming.
Says Fraser: “The models that exist now are not useful for predicting long-term responses because they do not account for evolution. I hope that new models will ultimately help to inform conservation policy in Canada.”
In July, Fraser will attend the International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology (ICVM) in Barcelona, Spain. Her trip is made possible through a Graduate Research and Innovative Thinking (GRIT) award.