Re-calibrating the snake palaeothermometer

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Arising from: J. J. Head et al. Nature 457, 715–717 (2009)10.1038/nature07671; Head et al. reply

In a recent study1 a new proxy for palaeoclimate reconstructions was proposed on the basis of a theoretical approach linking the largest body sizes to ambient temperature in extant taxa of air-breathing poikilotherms2,3. The value of the largest fossil snake’s body length was used to estimate the mean annual temperature (MAT) for the Palaeocene neotropics of ΔT = 3.8–7.2 °C above the modern value1. Here we argue that the reported temperature difference is a twofold overestimate and obtain a corrected estimate of ΔT = 1.9–3.7 °C using the taxon-specific metabolic scaling exponent α = 0.17 for boid snakes. The importance of using relevant taxon-specific information in case of one-taxon-based temperature reconstructions1 while leaving the theoretically derived generic α values (such as α = 0.33 used by Head et al.1) for broad inter-taxonomic analyses2,3 is emphasized.

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Figure 1: The snake palaeothermometer.


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Makarieva, A., Gorshkov, V. & Li, B. Re-calibrating the snake palaeothermometer. Nature 460, E2–E3 (2009) doi:10.1038/nature08223

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