Colorado Plateau Research Station

In cooperation with Northern Arizona University

U.S. Geological Survey
Fact Sheet 2008-3053
version 1.0

Prehistoric Packrats Piled Up Clues to Climate Change

By Kenneth L. Cole


This is a photograph of a scientist probing a hole in a large cave. Figure caption will follow:
Scientist using a special sampling pole to collect a 12,500-year-old midden deposit tucked into a canyon alcove

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and Northern Arizona University studying climate change in the Southwestern United States are getting a helping hand—or would that be paw?—from prehistoric packrats. By hoarding parts of animals and plants, including seeds and leaves, in garbage piles or “middens,” these bushy-tailed rodents preserved crucial ecological and environmental information about the past. From these middens, scientists are able to reconstruct plant communities and natural systems from as long ago as 50,000 years. The contents of middens allow scientists to understand how ecosystems responded to rapid, large-scale climate changes of the past. The insights gained from midden research could offer clues to future changes driven by rapid climate shifts .

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