DALLAS (SMU) – Leaf fossils from Ethiopia’s Mush Valley that date back nearly 22 million years have been found by SMU’s Earth Science professors Bonnie Jacobs and Neil J. Tabor and a dozen other international scientists.
The Mush Valley is the first site in Africa to produce an assemblage of some 2,400 leaves from that time interval, and the first to be studied using multiple lines of evidence, including associated microscopic fossils and chemical constituents, that tell us details about the ancient ecosystem.
Scientists can use data from the study to answer fundamental questions, like what climate change may look like in the future. Specifically, climate scientists can take information from the study, along with other data, to test models used to estimate future global climate change.
“The past helps us to understand how ecological processes operate under conditions so different from now. It is like the Earth has done experiments for us,” said Jacobs, a world-renowned paleobotanist at SMU (Southern Methodist University).
In addition, using fossils to learn more about what Africa’s prehistoric ecosystems were like can provide context for events in the past, such as when a land bridge developed between Africa and Eurasia 24 million years ago or the environment for primate precursors to the human family.
The fossils found in this study span an interval of 60,000 years during the early Miocene Epoch, which began 23 million years ago. Ellen D. Currano, a paleoecologist at the University of Wyoming, was the lead author of the study. It was published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.
You can read more about the work that Jacobs, Currano and the international colleagues have been doing in the Mush Valley here.
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