I, Science News-2 December 2019

This week in your I, Science News Roundup we discuss how humans may not have caused Neanderthals to go extinct, an 18,000 year-old frozen puppy, and the climate change tipping points. 

Did Neanderthals go extinct from bad luck? 

A new simulation indicates that we may not have been responsible for the extinction of the Neanderthals as is usually thought; instead, it could have simply been bad luck. Taking into account three main factors, researchers from the Netherlands modelled how the Neanderthal population may have fared over a period of 10,000 years. 

These factors included inbreeding, Allee effects (where smaller populations make it harder for them to survive due to difficulties in finding mates, having too few people to hunt etc.), and natural fluctuations in birth and death rates. 

The results indicated that, whilst humans may still have played a role, the Neanderthal population could have easily gone extinct on their own. 

The 18,000-year-old puppy questioning the evolution of dogs 

An 18,000-year-old puppy has been found frozen in Siberia and in remarkable condition – even his eyelashes are intact! That’s not the only thing remarkable about this find though; researchers still aren’t sure if the puppy is a late ice-age wolf, an early modern wolf, or a very early domesticated dog, despite DNA sequencing. 

This leads them to think that the puppy, nicknamed Dogor (which means friend in Yakut), could represent a key link in the evolutionary line of dogs and wolves. 

Tipping points in climate change – are they sooner than we thought? 

A new commentary in the journal Nature indicates there’s growing evidence that irreversible effects of climate change, such as the loss of the Amazon rainforest or the West Antarctic ice sheet, could occur sooner than we thought. 

These so-called tipping points were first predicted to only occur after a 5oC increase in global temperature, but information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the past few years suggests that some tipping points could be exceeded with even 2oC of warming. 

This comes at the same time as the World Meteorological Organisation says atmospheric greenhouse gas levels have once again broken records. 

This week’s news was written by Harry Jenkins, who is studying for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London. 

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