Cat-sized primate relatives lived in the Arctic 52 million years ago

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An analysis of fossils found in northern Canada has revealed two previously unknown primates lived above the Arctic Circle 52 million years ago, according to new research.

Study co-author Dr. Dr. Chris Beard is the Endowment Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas and a senior curator at the university’s Biodiversity Institute and Museum of Natural History.

Two sister species lived on what is now Ellesmere Island in northern Canada. The first known primatomorphs, or primate relatives, lived at latitudes north of the Arctic Circle, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal. PLOS ONE.

Two species are named Ignatius mckennai and Ignatius dawsonae.

“To get an idea of ​​what Ignatius looks like, imagine a house cat half the size of a lemon and a squirrel,” Beard said. “Unlike living primates, Ignatius had eyes on the sides of its head (instead of facing forward like ours) and its fingers and toes had claws instead of claws.”

When the researchers examined the fossil fragments, Ignatius’ jawbones and teeth appeared to differ from those of other primatomorphs that lived in the southern regions of North America.

“What I’ve been doing for the last couple of years is trying to understand what they’re eating, and if they’re eating different things than their mid-latitude counterparts,” said lead study author Kristen Miller. Kansas Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum.

Arctic primatomorphs have developed special features in their jaws and teeth to allow them to eat hard foods such as nuts and seeds, as opposed to their preferred diet of ripe fruits. This physical adaptation was possible because for half of the year, the species lived in the darkness of the Arctic winter, when finding food was extremely difficult.

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“This, we think, was the greatest physical challenge of the ancient environment for these animals,” Beard said.

The findings can also be used to understand how animals adapt and evolve amid periods of climate change – just like species facing the human-driven climate crisis today.

Researchers believe that primatomorphs evolved from an ancestral species that migrated north. From southern parts of North America. According to Miller, similar fossils have been found throughout Wyoming, Texas, Montana and Colorado.

“No primate relatives have ever been found at such extreme latitudes,” Miller said. “They are typically found in tropical regions around the equator. I was able to do a phylogenetic analysis that helped me understand how the Ellesmere Island fossils are related to the species found in the middle parts of North America.

Beard said the common ancestor of the two Ignatius species may have reached Ellesmere Island 51 million years ago. At the time, it was a peninsula within the Arctic Ocean from adjacent parts of North America.

The late paleontologists of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Dr. Mary Dawson and Dr. at the American Museum of Natural History. Ignatius McKennay and Ignatius Dawsonay are named after former colleagues and mentors of Malcolm McKenna. New York, and both worked extensively on Ellesmere Island.

During these ancient times, the Arctic Circle was a warm, hospitable place for life. Global Warming The area was very hot and humid with a swampy environment. Warmer temperatures during this period prompted the ancestors of Ikonsius to move north.

“Winter temperatures may have been freezing for a short period of time, but we know there was never any constant freezing temperature because the crocodiles found on Ellesmere Island cannot survive long freezes,” Beard said. “During the summer, temperatures reached about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.”

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Despite the warmer temperatures, primatomorphs still had to adapt to survive in their unique northern ecosystem. They grew larger than their southern cousins, which resembled squirrels; Such growth typically occurs in mammals living in northern latitudes because it helps maintain a necessary core body temperature, Beard said.

“(The findings) tell us to expect dramatic and dynamic changes in the Arctic ecosystem as it changes in the face of continued warming,” Beard said. “Some animals that do not currently inhabit the Arctic will colonize the area, and some will adapt to their new environment in ways similar to Ignatius. Similarly, we can expect some of the new colonizers to diversify into the Arctic, just as Ignatius did.”

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