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Caring for pets shaped human evolution

Dogs, cats, cows and other domesticated animals may have been vital to human evolution, a new theory suggests.

The uniquely human habit of taking in and employing animals — even competitors like wolves — spurred on human tool-making and language, which have both driven humanity’s success, paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman of Penn State University.says.
“Wherever you go in the world, whatever ecosystem, whatever culture, people live with animals,” said Shipman.

For early humans, taking in and caring for animals would seem like a poor strategy for survival. “On the face of it, you are wasting your resources. So this is a very weird behaviour,” Shipman said.

But it’s not so weird in the context something else humans were doing about 2.6 million years ago: switching from a mostly vegetarian diet to one rich in meat. This happened because humans invented stone hunting tools that enabled them to compete with other top predators. Quite a rapid and bizarre switch for any animal, Shipman said.

Forest fires give a boost to nitrogen cycle

During forest fire, nitrate levels go up and the effects persist, according to recent research from University of Montana scientists.

The researchers found that charcoal deposited during fire events has the potential to stimulate the conversion of ammonia to nitrates, an important step in the nitrogen cycle.
Led by Patrick Ball, the research team found that a type of bacteria that transforms ammonia into nitrates was found in greater abundance in recently burned sites, despite the fact that the ‘recent’ fire was twelve years prior to the sampling period.

In addition to the bacteria, the burned sites had greater rates of nitrification, meaning that nitrogen was being processed more quickly through the ecosystem than without a fire.

Nitrogen is often a limiting nutrient in coniferous forests soils of the western United States, where this study was conducted.

The research results reveal a link between fire, charcoal deposition, nitrification, and abundance of nitrifying organisms in coniferous forests of the inland Northwestern US.

Neanderthals’ bedroom with hearth and grass beds

Remains of an apparent Neanderthal cave sleeping chamber have been unearthed, complete with a hearth and nearby grass beds that might have once been covered with animal fur.

Neanderthals inhabited the cozy Late Pleistocene room, located within Esquilleu Cave in Cantabria, Spain, anywhere between 53,000 to 39,000 years ago. They lived the ultimate clean and literally green lifestyle, for they apparently constructed new beds out of grass every so often, using the old bedding material to help fuel the hearth.

“It is possible that the Neanderthals renewed the bedding each time they visited the cave,” lead author Dan Cabanes said.

Cabanes added that these hearthside beds also likely served as sitting areas during waking hours for the Neanderthals.

“In some way, they were used to make the area near the hearths more comfortable,” he said.

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