Pack rat nests could hold answers to mysteries of climate change

Pack rat midden

A massive complex Pleistocene packrat midden (in the alcove in the center of the image) in a cave in eastern Nevada. (Wikimedia Commons)

MYSTERY WIRE — Could the secrets of climate change be hidden in the nests of pack rats?

Scientists specializing in paleoecology have found that nests as old as 32,000 years old contain recoverable DNA that can tell us more about plant and animal lives from times. The preservation results from how the rats assemble their nests, and where they are located — in dry caves. Some contain fossilized remains of living creatures.

The nests are held together by the rats’ urine, which crystallizes and preserves what the rats collect.

Some nests date back to before the last ice age.

The research was published Thursday in the journal Ecology and Evolution, and summarized in a CNET article:

READ: Ancient pack rat nests could offer snapshots of Earth’s past

DNA sequencing is a useful tool that is becoming more affordable and readily available to scientists.

Specimens collected by pack rats have interested science for a long time, and the United States Geological Survey has even compiled a database that spans 40 years of research:

SEE: USGS/NOAA North American Packrat Midden Database (version 4, June 2016)

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