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Brandon prof unearths rare prehistoric mammals

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Tapir and Hedgehog — artwork by Julius Csotonyi.

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Tapir and Hedgehog — artwork by Julius Csotonyi.

Brandon University biology Prof. David Greenwood has played a pivotal role in discovering two new prehistoric mammals which roamed North America 52 million years ago.

Greenwood’s important finds have just been published as cover story in the July edition of the U.S.-based Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

"This is very exciting," said Greenwood. "A real career highlight!"

University officials said that Greenwood made the discoveries while leading fossil digs in Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, near Smithers, B.C., in 2010 and 2011. A plant and ancient climate specialist, Greenwood called in fossil mammal experts Prof. Jaelyn Eberle from the University of Colorado and Natalia Rybczynski from the Canadian Museum of Nature to identify ancient jawbones.

"What we have discovered are an ancient tapir relative, about the size of a large dog, and a hedgehog relative, smaller than a mouse," said Greenwood. "This is remarkable because very few fossil mammals of this geological age have been described before in Canada."

The fossil discoveries are also significant because the early Eocene epoch when these mammals lived marked the height of prehistoric global warming, a period involving significant reorganization of the world’s plant and animal life. "We can gain insight into how the Earth was coping with a problem then that’s re-emerging now," said Greenwood, who used fossils to reconstruct the forest setting and climate where the ancient animals lived.

The full text of the publication can be found here.

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