The bigger the fossilized feces the more ancient rain. A team of paleontologists has uncovered this apparent correlation during a study of chinchilla scat at nine sites in South America’s Atacama Desert.
Claudio Latorre Hidalgo of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago presented his findings on this rainfall metric at a talk held yesterday during the ongoing American Geophysical Union’s Meeting of the Americas. Science News, where we found the story, reports that Latorre Hidaglo looked at fossilized feces from middens–shared rodent poop piles that contain “fecal pellets cemented together by crystallized urine.”
Latorre Hidaglo’s team carbon dated organic bits from the largest twenty percent of the chinchilla pellets (so as to exclude pellets from rodent youth). Given information on rainfall from other sources, they correlated the larger feces with periods of greater rainfall. According to Science News, Latorre Hidaglo suggests that the more rain, the better the environment to support bigger chinchillas; the bigger the chinchillas, the bigger the chinchilla poop. The poop test, the researchers say, may provide a way to estimate past rainfall when other tests aren’t available.
The American Geophysical Union talk announcement advises researchers to keep digging into the middens for more information:
A correlation between the size of rodent droppings and rainfall quantities is enabling researchers to establish a new paleoclimate record. Plus, a study of the contents of middens accumulated long ago by rodents offers further insights into the Atacama’s past.
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Image: wikimedia / Rumpelstiltzkin