Minute amounts of collagen, the dominant protein found in bone, were extracted from the fossils. Using chemical markers for the peptides that make up the collagen, a collagen profile for the fossil bones was developed. This profile was compared with those of 37 modern mammal species, as well as that of a fossil camel found in the Yukon, which is also in the Canadian Museum of Nature's collections.
The collagen profile for the High Arctic camel most closely matched those of modern camels, specifically dromedaries (camels with one hump) as well as the Yukon giant camel, which is thought to be Paracamelus, the ancestor of modern camels. The collagen information, combined with the anatomical data, allowed Rybczynski and her colleagues to conclude that the Ellesmere bones belong to a camel, and is likely the same lineage as Paracamelus.
"We now have a new fossil record to better understand camel evolution, since our research shows that the Paracamelus lineage inhabitated northern North America for millions of years, and the simplest explanation for this pattern would be that Paracamelus originated there," explains Rybczynski. "So perhaps some specializations seen in modern camels, such as their wide flat feet, large eyes and humps for fat may be adaptations derived from living in a polar environment."
The scientific paper also reports for the first time an accurate age of both the Fyles Leaf Bed site and the Beaver Pond site-at least 3.4 million years old. This was determined by Dr. John Gosse at Dalhousie University using a sophisticated technique that involves dating the sands found associated with the bone. The date is significant because it corresponds to a time period when the Earth was 2 degrees C a 3 degrees C warmer than today, and the Arctic was 14 degrees C a 22 degrees C warmer.
The bones of the High Arctic camel are housed in the Canadian Museum of Nature's research and collections facility in Gatineau, Quebec on behalf of the Government of Nunavut.
Other contributors to the report include Dr. C. Richard Harington, Researcher Emeritus at the Canadian Museum of Nature, Dr. Roy Wogelius at the University of Manchester and Dr. A.J. Hidy at Dalhousie University. Support for the research was provided by the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (Canada), the National Geographic Society (for the 2006 field season), the Northern Scientific Training Program (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada), the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, the Polar Continental Shelf Project of Natural Resources Canada (logistics), and the Natural Environment Research Council (United Kingdom).
The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada's national museum of natural history and natural sciences. It promotes awareness of Canada's natural heritage through signature and travelling exhibitions, public education programmes, scientific research, a dynamic web site (nature.ca) as well as the maintenance of a 10.5 million-specimen collection. The museum's legacy of Arctic research dates back 100 years to the first Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913.
For more information about the High Arctic camel visit www.nature.ca.
NOTE TO MEDIA: Available images include the camel bone fragments, the research team at work on Ellesmere island, and an illustration of the High Arctic Camel in its forest environment.
Senior Media Relations Officer
Canadian Museum of Nature
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