Science Diary: Climate Change – DNA Revealing Past and Future
Ambience: Night wind in rainforest canopy, Frogs
SW: “Hold him gently. We don’t want his whole tail to come off cause he stores a lot of energy there. And we’ll take the very tip of his tail and clip it and set it right into a jar of ethanol.”
JM: We’re in northwest Australia, in a mountainous region known as the Carbine Tableland. A team of researchers are measuring reptiles and amphibians, and taking samples of their DNA. It’s all part of a study of the effects of climate change on the species that inhabit this area. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside.
SW: “We can use the genetics to understand the evolution of the species and how it differs across the region. What that tells us is how these species were affected by changes in the climate in the past. By understanding how the past climate changes affected it, gives us a better understanding about how they will be affected in the future.”
JM: Field biologist Steve Williams.
SW: “By using everything from pollen and charcoal cores all sorts of things. We have a fairly good idea of how climate changed in the past. By looking at the genetics of the animal we can understand how they’ve changed in these different areas that we know that were affected in different ways. And we can understand in this particular mountain range that species went extinct and was recolonized from the adjoining mountain range later on. And all that helps us understand how susceptible that species is.”
JM: DNA samples help scientists in other ways as well.
SW: “There’s a whole lot of species of frogs that are almost impossible to identify visually. If they’re calling, it’s ok, you can tell them apart by their call, but if you just find them during the day, it’s very, very difficult. And so we’re taking the tissue for the DNA analysis anyway and that will also give us a positive identification.”
JM: You can take an Audio Adventure in Australia’s Carbine Tablelands by visiting our new website – pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.