On U-M Gateway: global warming led to dwarfism in mammals – twice


By Jim Erickson
Nov 07, 2013 Bookmark and Share

An artist's rendering of the early horse Hyracotherium (right) alongside a modern-day horse. Researchers found that Hyracotherium body size decreased 19 percent during a global warming event about 53 million years ago.

An artist's rendering of the early horse Hyracotherium (right) alongside a modern-day horse. Researchers found that Hyracotherium body size decreased 19 percent during a global warming event about 53 million years ago.

Mammal body size decreased significantly during at least two ancient global warming events. A new finding that suggests a similar outcome is possible in response to human-caused climate change, according to a University of Michigan palaeontologist Philip Gingerich, and his colleagues.

Researchers have known for years that mammals such as primates and the groups that include horses and deer became much smaller during a period of warming, called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), about 55 million years ago.

Gingerich and his colleagues have found evidence that mammalian "dwarfing" also occurred during a separate, smaller global warming event that occurred about 2 million years after the PETM, around 53 million years ago. Gingerich is a professor of earth and environmental sciences, ecology and evolutionary biology, and anthropology. He is also curator in the Museum of Paleontology. 

"The fact that it happened twice significantly increases our confidence that we're seeing cause and effect, that one interesting response to global warming in the past was a substantial decrease in body size in mammalian species," said Gingerich.

Michigan News press release