Fossil from Japan reveals unexpected distribution of 'Atlantic' seabirds
Date: January 21, 2020
Source: Kyoto University
Findings from a 700,000-year-old fossil bone indicate that a close relative of the most abundant seabird species in the North Atlantic, the modern dovekie, or 'little auk', used to thrive in the Pacific Ocean and Japan.
Seabirds are top predators in the marine ecosystem, and their distributions are shaped by numerous environmental factors in the ocean. As such, extensive scientific inquiries have been conducted on how seabirds respond to fluctuating oceanic environments in the ecologic and geologic timescales.
"The North Pacific has been one of the most intently investigated regions, but the fossil record of seabirds in the Pleistocene Epoch, about 2.6 to 0.01 million years ago, has been scarce," explains first author Junya Watanabe of Kyoto University's School of Science. "This has led to a frustrating lack of information in this critical time period concerning the origin of modern seabird communities."
In recent years, Watanabe and his team had been investigating seabird fossils from several locations in Chiba and Tokyo prefectures, gaining new insight on the Pleistocene seabird community in the region.
The group had been successful in identifying 17 fossils representing at least 9 species of birds: three species of ducks, a loon, an albatross, a shearwater, a cormorant, an extinct penguin-like seabird called mancalline auk, and a dovekie. Most of these species can be found in the region today; however, the presence of a dovekie was completely unexpected.