GAINESVILLE, Fla. A new study by researchers from five institutions including the University of Florida introduces the first method to directly measure body temperatures of extinct vertebrates and help reconstruct temperatures of ancient environments.
The study, appearing in this week's online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how scientists could use carbon and oxygen isotopes from fossils to more accurately determine whether extinct animals were warm-blooded or cold-blooded and better estimate temperature ranges during the times these animals lived.
"Without a time machine, it has previously been impossible to directly take the temperature of extinct animals such as dinosaurs or megalodon sharks," said study co-author Richard Hulbert, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. "The method described in the study has been shown to work with 12-million-year-old fossils from Florida and the next step is to look at even older fossils. For example, we have no teeth of Titanoboa, the largest snake ever discovered, but we could use 60-million-year-old crocodylian teeth from the same deposit to find out more about the snake's environment."
Funded in part by the National Science Foundation, the new "clumped-isotope" paleothermometer method used in the study analyzes two rare heavy isotopes, carbon-13 and oxygen-18, found in tooth enamel, bones and eggshells.
"Clumping is temperature dependent, so at low temperatures you get more clumping together in a mineral while high temperatures mean less clumping," said lead author and California Institute of Technology postdoctoral scholar Robert Eagle. "If you can measure the clumping accurately enough, you can work out the temperature at which a mineral formed. In the case of teeth and bone, this will be the body temperature of the organism."
The researchers first tested the method on moder
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University of Florida