Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction from the analysis of micromammal remains

Margaret Avery is a palaeoecologist who specialises in palaeoenvironmental reconstruction based on the remains of micromammals (rats and mice) from archaeological and palaeontological sites. Ancillary interests include establishing the vegetational and climatic controls on modern micromammals, and the potential of modern barn owl prey remains for providing environmental information.

This programme has various objectives, all of which rely on micromammals (small rodents and insectivores). The initial aim, which is based on potential of these animals to provide information on the environments in which they live, is to contribute to our understanding of changes in vegetation and climate during the Pleistocene Epoch (currently considered to have lasted from about two million to 10 thousand years ago). This work is based micromammalian remains recovered from archaeological and palaeontological sites in southern Africa. There are two inter-linked reasons for undertaking such research. First, Pleistocene data can be expected to yield information on natural variation in regional vegetation cover. Such natural variation provides, in turn, a necessary yardstick against which the impact of human activities can be measured. Second, the data will assist in establishing long-term patterns of regional climate change. Such information is essential for validating Global Circulation Models, which are themselves crucial for predicting future weather patterns.

As an extension of this objective, a database of detailed environmental correlates for the various micromammalian species is being compiled. The correlates will be used to tighten interpretations of past environmental conditions. They will also be employed in the development of a transfer function that will allow quantitative estimates to be made of past temperature and precipitation.

A second aim is to make a contribution to determining the history of southern African micromammalian taxa. Establishing the taxonomic content of Lower Pleistocene samples in particular will make it possible to improve estimates of the longevity of individual taxa and of micromammalian communities. Such baseline information is, in turn, important for accurately characterizing the natural biodiversity of the region and identifying endemic species.

Contact details

Dr Margaret Avery
Honorary Associate:  Cenozoic Fossil Collections

Natural History Department
Iziko South African Museum
Box 61, Cape Town 8000
South Africa

Phone: +27 (0)21 481 3894
Fax: +27 (0)21 481 3993
e-mail: mavery@iziko.org.za