Monday, 8 May 2017

Spotted skunk evolution driven by climate change, suggest researchers

Ice Age climate change played a bigger role in skunk genetics than geological barriers 
Date: May 3, 2017
Source: Field Museum

Climate plays a key role in determining what animals can live where. And while human-induced climate change has been causing major problems for wildlife as of late, changes in Earth's climate have impacted evolution for millions of years -- offering tantalizing clues into how to protect animals facing climate change today. In a new paper in Ecology and Evolution, scientists have delved into the effects of Ice Age climate change upon the evolution of tiny, hand-standing skunks.

"By analyzing western spotted skunk DNA, we learned that Ice Age climate change played a crucial role in their evolution," says lead author Adam Ferguson, Collections Manager of Mammals at The Field Museum in Chicago and affiliate of Texas Tech University. "Over the past million years, changing climates isolated groups of spotted skunks in regions with suitable abiotic conditions, giving rise to genetic sub-divisions that we still see today."

Western spotted skunks are really stinkin' cute -- at two pounds, they're smaller than the striped Pepe Le Pew variety, their coats are an almost maze-like pattern of black and white swirls, and when they spray, they often do a hand-stand, hind legs and fluffy tail in the air as they unleash smelly chemicals to ward off predators. They're found throughout the Western US and Mexico, in a wide variety of climates -- they thrive everywhere from Oregon's temperate rainforests to the Sonoran, the hottest desert in Mexico.

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