This novel approach could also be applied in other regions, and with other organisms. "It may be that these methods find equally, or even more important applications where there are analogous organisms that can be used as climate proxies in the Southern Hemisphere," Mann says. The Southern Hemisphere is mostly water and therefore is relatively short on living records like trees, commonly used in the Northern Hemisphere.
Oregon State's Black has used the proxy technique in other situations himself—tracking the climate through the bones of Pacific rockfish. More recently, he has begun working with freshwater mussel shells, which appear to keep tabs on river flows—another useful climate variable.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's Copenheaver is back where she is most comfortable: the forest. "Tree rings are beautiful to look at," she says, "but geoduck clams are like the dullest things I've ever seen. They are so embarrassing—such ugly, phallic things."
Together, however, beauty and the beast—or more aptly, the ugly geoduckling—are recovering climate's missing chapters, and giving life on Earth a better shot at getting to happily ever after.