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Calibrating the paleothermometer: climate, communities, and the evolution of size

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 February 2016

Tamar Dayan
Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306
Daniel Simberloff
Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306
Eitan Tchernov
Department of Zoology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel 91904
Yoram Yom-Tov
Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, Israel 69978


Studies in the past 20 years have often interpreted size fluctuations in fossil mammal remains as a response to climatic change, in accord with Bergmann's rule. However, such paleoecological inference requires careful consideration of changes in community composition that could cause ecological character displacement or release. Recent size gradients of mammals should be screened for the possibility of character displacement if fossil size gradients are to be used as a “paleothermometer” for past climate. The use of teeth in paleontological studies as a measure of body size presents a further complication; for several carnivore guilds, it appears that competitive pressures act most strongly on tooth size. Teeth may therefore inaccurately estimate body size, even if body size accurately indicates climatic conditions. In the fossil record different species exhibit different size patterns under the same conditions of climatic change, and the same species may show diametrically opposite size fluctuations under similar conditions of climatic change, in different regions.

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