August 18, 2015 11:22 am

Dogs evolved as result of climate change: study

A new study has concluded that dogs evolved out of climate change over millions of years.

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TORONTO – A new study published in Nature Communications on Tuesday has concluded that our beloved dogs evolved as a result of our planet’s changing climate.

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The study examined the fossils of canines from 40 million years ago. Dogs — which are native to North America — looked more like a mongoose at the time. They were small and adapted to the warm, wooded habitat. Their forelimbs weren’t made for running, but rather for being able to tackle any meal that had the bad luck of walking by.

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Fast forward to a few million years later and the region’s climate began to change. Instead of warm and wooded, the interior became drier with more grasslands.

Dogs began to adapt to survive. Instead of just feeding on a meal that happened to be passing through, they became a “pursuit-pounce” predator more like today’s coyotes or foxes.

“There’s no point in doing a dash and a pounce in a forest,” said Christine Janis, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University, who worked with lead author Borja Figueirido on the paper. “They’ll smack into a tree.”

Two early dogs, Hesperocyon, left and the later Sunkahetanka, were both ambush-style predators.

Mauricio Anton

The scientists reached this conclusion by studying fossils of 32 species of ancient dogs from 40 million years ago to two million years ago. What they found was a change in the structure of the dogs’ elbows. And this was occurring at a time our climate was changing the vegetation of the land.

“The elbow is a really good proxy for what carnivores are doing with their forelimbs, which tells their entire locomotion repertoire,” said Janis.

Previous studies had suggested that herbivores were adjusting to climate change, but it hadn’t yet been seen in carnivores.

“It’s reinforcing the idea that predators may be as directly sensitive to climate and habitat as herbivores,” said Christine Janis. “Although this seems logical, it hadn’t been demonstrated before.”

And since the study proves that carnivores adapted to climate change, it’s likely that it will continue as Earth continues to change.

“Now we’re looking into the future at anthropogenic changes,” Janis said.

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