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Fossils Suggest Giant Relatives Of Modern Camels Roamed The Canadian Arctic

Illustration of the High Arctic camel on Ellesmere Island during the Pliocene warm period, aboutthree-and-a-half million years ago. The camels lived in a boreal-type forest. The habitat includeslarch trees and the depiction is based on records of plant fossils found at nearby fossil deposits. i i

Illustration of the High Arctic camel on Ellesmere Island during the Pliocene warm period, aboutthree-and-a-half million years ago. The camels lived in a boreal-type forest. The habitat includeslarch trees and the depiction is based on records of plant fossils found at nearby fossil deposits. Julius Csotonyi hide caption

itoggle caption Julius Csotonyi
Illustration of the High Arctic camel on Ellesmere Island during the Pliocene warm period, aboutthree-and-a-half million years ago. The camels lived in a boreal-type forest. The habitat includeslarch trees and the depiction is based on records of plant fossils found at nearby fossil deposits.

Illustration of the High Arctic camel on Ellesmere Island during the Pliocene warm period, aboutthree-and-a-half million years ago. The camels lived in a boreal-type forest. The habitat includeslarch trees and the depiction is based on records of plant fossils found at nearby fossil deposits.

Julius Csotonyi

Camels belong in the desert. That's what we've learned since grade school.

Today, NPR's Melissa Block talked to Natalia Rybczynski, a paleobiologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature, who tells Melissa that fossils she has unearthed tell a different story.

The fossils, found on a frigid ridge in Canada's High Arctic, show that modern camels actually come from giant relatives that roamed the forests of Ellesmere Island 3.5 million years ago.

Finding the fossils that far north was a complete surprise, Rybczynski told Melissa. But apart from the wow element, this discovery can tell us important things about a much warmer world.

Rybczynski said that when these giant camels roamed Canada, the High Arctic was a much warmer place. (The arctic was 14 to 22 degrees Celsius warmer; the globe was two to three degrees warmer.)

"We're really interested to know how high latitudes respond to global warming and so the data that we're getting from the camel site and other sites are really important for ground-truthing our climate models," Rybczynski told Melissa. "If we can hindcast properly, we've got a chance at forecasting."

Much more of Melissa's conversation with Rybczynski on today's edition of All Things Considered. We'll post audio of the interview, here, a little later today.

Also, the Canadian Museum of Nature has released this video explanation of their find:

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