Module 7: Mammal Responses to Climate Change in the Past and the Future with Neotoma Explorer

James S. Oliver III and Russell W. Graham, The Pennsylvania State University
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Animal distributions are frequently controlled by climate extremes, especially seasonal ones. Therefore, if the climate changes from cold to warm (or vice versa) then using modern mammal distributions and modern climate conditions it is possible to make predictions about how the mammal will respond to the climate change -- whether it is past or future. In this module students use the Neotoma Paleoecological Database to test predictions, or establish hypotheses, about how certain species of mammals have responded to climate change in the past and how they might do so on the future.

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Learning Goals

By the end of this activity, participants will:

  1. Apply knowledge and skills gained from the previous modules.
  2. Make observations and develop and test hypotheses.
  3. Collect and analyze data using the Neotoma Explorer.
  4. Synthesize findings in short written responses.

Context for Use

This is a laboratory type exercise that can accompany a lecture series on climate change and biotic response. It can be be used for any size class since it is on line. Classes of about 20-25 are the most ideal of they are being facilitated by an instructor.

This is the final module in a series of 7 modules to be used by participants to understand how climate change in the past and future affects the distribution of mammal species. Each module builds on the next to introduce participants to climate patterns, change in climate through time, ecology & paleoecology and the interaction between climate and biotic distributions.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students are given background information and then asked to answer a series of questions in order to assess their comprehension of the material. The exercises in this module require that students use the online Neotoma Explorer. If they have problems with the exercises, they should reread the material, reference the previous modules, or be facilitated by an instructor.

Module 7: Mammal Responses to Climate Change in the Past and the Future with Neotoma Explorer (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 241kB Jul5 18)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Neotoma Explorer Hints, Tips, and Cautions When conducting new searches, be sure to cancel previous search criteria. It is easy forget a previously set criteria and conduct searches on unintended criteria. When examining dates for a deposit, be sure to expand the Analysis Unit column to view the age range. A date range is often given, but the younger age is not visible until you expand the column. You expand the column like you would in Excel by moving your cursor over the line dividing the columns (in the data part of the table) until a the expand icon (vertical line with arrows on either side), clicking and dragging the icon.

In selecting ages to examine for change, the ranges can be set at any value in the Age Range Box. However, for most of these exercises, it will probably be preferable if the students used the following ranges as they relate to the basic climate events in North America over the last 20,000 years.

20,000 to 15,000 Full Glacial (coldest climate)

15,000 to 10,000 Late Glacial (warming but still cold)

10,000 to 8,000 Early Holocene (warm)

8,000 to 4,000 Middle Holocene (warmest interval)

4,000 to 500 Late Holocene (slight cooling, similar to modern climate)


1. Quizes

2. Have students select species from the Neotoma database that are not included in the exercises and then have them make a hypothesis about changes in distribution of the species based upon the modern distribution and the climate of the different time intervals. Have the student use Neotoma Explorer to test the hypothesis.

References and Resources

Students should refer to the previous modules and references therein. Module 1 contains an index of the modules.