Research ArticleCLIMATOLOGY

Repetitive mammalian dwarfing during ancient greenhouse warming events

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Science Advances  15 Mar 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 3, e1601430
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601430

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Abrupt perturbations of the global carbon cycle during the early Eocene are associated with rapid global warming events, which are analogous in many ways to present greenhouse warming. Mammal dwarfing has been observed, along with other changes in community structure, during the largest of these ancient global warming events, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum [PETM; ~56 million years ago (Ma)]. We show that mammalian dwarfing accompanied the subsequent, smaller-magnitude warming event known as Eocene Thermal Maximum 2 [ETM2 (~53 Ma)]. Statistically significant decrease in body size during ETM2 is observed in two of four taxonomic groups analyzed in this study and is most clearly observed in early equids (horses). During ETM2, the best-sampled lineage of equids decreased in size by ~14%, as opposed to ~30% during the PETM. Thus, dwarfing appears to be a common evolutionary response of some mammals during past global warming events, and the extent of dwarfing seems related to the magnitude of the event.

  • climate
  • hyperthermal
  • Eocene
  • mammal
  • body size
  • dwarfing
  • stable isotopes

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