Research highlight

Palaeontology: Ancient camels were ships of the Arctic

Nature Communications

March 6, 2013

Modern camels may have originated in the Arctic according to data presented online this week in Nature Communications. The study reports evidence of a giant camel that lived in the High Arctic of Canada around 3.5 million years ago.

Camels are commonly associated with arid regions, but they originated in North America during the Eocene period around 45 million years ago. The discovery of camel remains in Canada’s High Arctic, reported by Natalia Rybczynski and colleagues, extends the range of North American camels northward by around 1,200 km. They determine that deposits in which the camel fossil was found date back to the mid-Pliocene epoch. This was a relatively warm period, and the area was forested at the time that the camel lived.

The authors note that the camel was bigger than modern camels, and shared similarities with the Yukon giant camels, which lived over 2,000 km away. Their results suggest that the evolutionary history of modern camels can be traced back to a lineage of giant camels that was well-established in a forested Arctic.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms2516

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