Science Digest

Science Digest

Researchers say a hippo-like mammal known as coryphodon lived in the Arctic 53 million years ago, long before the regional climate cooled.
Researchers say a hippo-like mammal known as coryphodon lived in the Arctic 53 million years ago, long before the regional climate cooled. (American Museum Of Natural History)

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Monday, June 8, 2009

A Hot, Dark Arctic?

Rhino- and hippo-like beasts and other large mammals roamed the Arctic 53 million years ago in a climate that reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and they basked part of the year in a warm midnight sun and stayed put when the sun dropped below the horizon for months at a time, new research indicates.

Based on analyses of carbon and oxygen isotopes in the fossil teeth of three species, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder concluded that during the dark months, the creatures shifted their diet radically.

Their summer fare of flowering plants, leaves and aquatic vegetation gave way to twigs, leaf litter, evergreen needles and fungi during the mild winters, which probably got no colder than just above freezing.

The fossils were found on Ellesmere Island, near Greenland, which since 1975 has yielded a remarkable remains of ancient creatures such as alligators, aquatic turtles, giant tortoises, snakes and flying lemurs, one of the earliest primates. Today, the region is high arctic of tundra, permafrost, ice sheets, sparse vegetation and small mammals.

In the June issue of Geology, the researchers conclude that the ancient mammals migrated south via land bridges over millions of years as the climate cooled, a pattern that could reverse with Earth's current warming. "We are hypothesizing that lower-latitude mammals will migrate north as the temperatures warm in the coming centuries and millennia," said Jaelyn Eberle, an assistant professor at UC.

-- Nils Bruzelius

The Politics of Yuck

Conservatives have a reputation for being tough on crime and national defense, but they are likely to be squeamish when it comes to more mundane aspects of life, new research indicates.

David A. Pizarro, an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell University, and his colleagues surveyed 181 adults from four politically mixed swing states to assess their general political leanings and their propensity to be disgusted by things such as maggots, feces and vomit. Those who were more likely to be grossed out tended to be more politically conservative, the researchers report in the journal Cognition & Emotion.

To test whether disgust sensitivity was associated with specific conservative ideas, the researchers then surveyed 91 Cornell undergraduates to test how sensitive they were to being grossed out and asked about their attitudes on same-sex marriage, abortion, gun control, labor unions, tax cuts, affirmative action and other issues.

Those who were most easily disgusted were more likely to oppose same-sex marriage and abortion and were somewhat more likely to support tax cuts. But there was no link to views on other policy issues.

In another study published in the journal, Pizarro and his colleagues found that those who were most easily disgusted were more likely to react negatively to homosexual behavior, such as two men kissing.

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