Giant tortoise fossils hint at Andes Mountains' history

Case Western Reserve University researcher Darin Croft discovered fossilized tortoise remains in the Andes Mountains, more specifically in what is described as an "arid plateau," hinting at the state of the landscape as it existed millions of years ago. The discovery was made in southern Bolivia, and is joined by similar discoveries of turtle shell fossil fragments from a nearby location.

In this case, the discovered fossils belonged to a tortoise thought to have been almost five feet in length. The size is important because it helps shed light on how far that region was above sea level some thirteen million years ago when the creature roamed about.

A previous study has pegged the region as having been 2 to a little more than 3 kilometers above sea level during that time period, but the presence of a large tortoise would mean the plateau wasn't so high — in fact, likely under a kilometer above sea level. Had it been higher, the temperatures would have been cooler and the tortoise wouldn't have ventured so far up.

The fossilized remains could also help researchers better under stand climate changes that took place during that time period, and shed light on how modern day climate change could affect regions like this one. Said Croft, "We're trying to understand how tectonic plate activity and changing climate affected species diversity in the past."

SOURCE: EurekAlert