SEPTEMBER 14, 2015
by Shayne Jacopian
Analyzing fossils of birds found in the Talara tar seeps of northwestern Peru, researchers have found that the desert region most likely was once a grassy landscape bustling with life.
The bird fossils, dating back to the late Pleistocene epoch of around 15,000 years ago, were recovered from tar seeps—places in the land where natural tar bubbles up from beneath the Earth’s surface—in the Talara desert. The birds would have mistakenly landed on the inky ooze, which was camouflaged by water or dust, and sunk to their death.
The researchers recovered 625 bird fossils from 21 different species, a few of which are now extinct.
“It suggests that not all that long ago, the neotropics [the tropical zone of the Americas and temperate zone of South America] had more songbird species than even today," study author Jessica Oswald, a postdoctoral researcher at Louisiana State University, told Live Science, adding that that’s pretty impressive, given that the neotropics have more songbird species than anywhere else even today.
These findings point to a landscape far different than today’s.