4,300 Years of Bat Poop From The Depths of a Jamaican Cave Have Revealed Earth’s Past

by akoloy

You could not give a pile of bat poop gathered over 4,300 years a re-assessment – however to a gaggle of scientists, it is offered an intriguing perception into how bat diets and subsequently local weather circumstances have shifted over 1000’s of years.


Taller than the common man (2 meters or 6-and-a-half toes), the pile of poop (also referred to as guano) information historical past in clear layers, very similar to sediments underneath a lake.

By analyzing the layers again via time, the scientists have been in a position to determine adjustments within the diets of the bats which have been inhabiting this cave for millennia.

In flip, the dietary adjustments present hints about what the local weather and setting may need been like over that point, with variations in temperature and precipitation affecting animal life and the types of bugs and vegetation that had been out there for bats to eat.

“We study natural archives and reconstruct natural histories, mostly from lake sediments,” says limnologist Jules Blais, from the University of Ottawa in Canada. “This is the first time scientists have interpreted past bat diets, to our knowledge.”

bat face 2Thin slices of bat guano core. (Chris Grooms)

The researchers had been significantly interested by sterols, biochemical markers of weight loss plan produced by plant and animal cells. These sterols cross via the digestive system and might be preserved for 1000’s of years – as was the case right here.

An evaluation was additionally carried out of poop from the bats at present dwelling in the identical location: the Home Away from Home Cave in Jamaica, which in the mean time is dwelling to round 5,000 bats from 5 totally different species. That gave the crew a baseline to work towards.


There was a spike in plant sterols within the bats’ weight loss plan round a thousand years in the past, the researchers discovered – corresponding with the Medieval Warm Period (900-1,300 CE), when it is thought the Americas had been significantly dry.

Another plant sterol spike was discovered from round 1,350 BCE, at a time generally known as the Minoan Warm Period. Drier circumstances usually make life tougher for bugs, and through these occasions the bats had been snacking extra typically on fruits.

“We inferred from our results that past climate has had an effect on the bats,” says biologist Lauren Gallant, from the University of Ottawa. “Given the current changes in climate, we expect to see changes in how bats interact with the environment. That could have consequences for ecosystems.”

Another fascinating discovery was adjustments within the carbon composition of the guano, which most likely correlates with the arrival of sugarcane in Jamaica within the fifteenth century. Chemical signatures of human actions like nuclear testing and the arrival of leaded gasoline is also noticed.

Bats are extra necessary to ecosystems than you may need realized: they management insect populations, pollinate flowers, and disperse seeds. This cave technique is a non-invasive, efficient approach of learning their diets and checking in on their wellbeing throughout a historical past that – with the suitable guano pile – can stretch to 1000’s of years.


It’s additionally price noting that the identical strategies used right here might be utilized to different caves all around the globe, the researchers say – which is likely to be particularly helpful in areas with out lakes and underlying sediments, which reveal loads of the identical details about the local weather over time.

“As a piece of work showing what you can do with poo, this study breaks new ground,” says geologist Michael Bird, from James Cook University in Australia, who wasn’t concerned within the new research.

“They really extended the toolkit that can be used on guano deposits around the world.”

The analysis has been revealed within the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences.


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