They shrink horses, don't they?

From the University of Nebraska-Lincoln . Tom Nelson quipped earlier today that he hadn’t noticed any pygmy horses near the equator where it is warmer.

Study: Evolution of earliest horses driven by climate change

New research offers evidence of rising temperatures’ effects on body size

This is an artist's reconstruction of Sifrhippus sandrae (right) touching noses with a modern Morgan horse (left) that stands about 5 feet high at the shoulders and weighs about 1,000 pounds. Sifrhippus was the size of a small house cat (about 8.5 pounds) at the beginning of the Eocene (approximately 55.8 million years ago) and is the earliest known horse. Credit: Danielle Byerley, Florida Museum of Natural History.

When Sifrhippus, the earliest known horse, first appeared in the forests of North America more than 50 million years ago, it would not have been mistaken for a Clydesdale. It weighed in at around 12 pounds — and it was destined to get much smaller over the ensuing millennia.

Sifrhippus lived during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a 175,000-year interval of time some 56 million years ago in which average global temperatures rose by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, caused by the release of vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and oceans.

About a third of mammal species responded with significant reduction in size during the PETM, some by as much as one-half. Sifrhippus shrank by about 30 percent to the size of a small house cat (about 8.5 pounds) in the PETM’s first 130,000 years and then rebounded to about 15 pounds in the final 45,000 years of the PETM.

Scientists have assumed that rising temperatures or high concentrations of carbon dioxide primarily caused the phenomenon in mammals during this period, and new research led by Ross Secord of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Jonathan Bloch of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville offers new evidence of the cause-and-effect relationship between temperature and body size. Their findings also offer clues to what might happen to animals in the near future from global warming.

In a paper to be published in the Feb. 24 issue of the international journal Science, Secord, Bloch and colleagues used measurements and geochemical composition of fossil mammal teeth to document a progressive decrease in Sifrhippus‘ body size that correlates very closely to temperature change over a 130,000-year span.

Bloch, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said multiple trails led to the discovery.

One was the fossils themselves, recovered from the Cabin Fork area of the southern Bighorn Basin near Worland, Wyo. Stephen Chester, then an undergraduate student at Florida, now an anthropology Ph.D. candidate at Yale and a co-author on the paper, had the task of measuring the horses’ teeth. What he found when he plotted them through time caught Bloch and Secord by surprise.

“He pointed out that the first horses in the section were much larger than those later on,” Bloch recalled. “I thought something had to be wrong, but he was right — and the pattern became more robust as we collected more fossils.”

A postdoctoral researcher in Bloch’s lab for the first year of the project, Secord performed the geochemical analysis of the oxygen isotopes in the teeth. What he found provided an even bigger surprise.

“It was absolutely startling when Ross pulled up the first oxygen isotope data,” Bloch said. “We looked at the curve and we realized that it was exactly the same pattern that we were seeing with the horse body size.

“For the first time, going back into deep time — going back tens of millions of years — we were able to show that indeed temperature was causing essentially a one-to-one shift in body size within this lineage of horse. Because it’s over a long enough time, you can argue very strongly that what you’re looking at is natural selection and evolution — that it’s actually corresponding to the shift in temperature and driving the evolution of these horses.”

Secord, who came to UNL in 2008 as an assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Nebraska State Museum, said the finding raises important questions about how plants and animals will respond to rapid change in the not-too-distant future.

“This has implications, potentially, for what we might expect to see over the next century or two, at least with some of the climate models that are predicting that we will see warming of as much as 4 degrees Centigrade (7 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next 100 years,” he said.

Those predictions are based largely on the 40 percent increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels (from 280 to 392 parts per million) since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century.

Ornithologists, Secord said, have already started to notice that there may be a decrease in body size among birds.

“One of the issues here is that warming (during the PETM) happened much slower, over 10,000 to 20,000 years to get 10 degrees hotter, whereas now we’re expecting it to happen over a century or two,” Secord said. “So there’s a big difference in scale and one of the questions is, ‘Are we going to see the same kind of response?’ Are animals going to be able to keep up and readjust their body sizes over the next couple of centuries?”

Increased temperatures are not the only change animals will have to adapt to, Secord said. Greenhouse experiments show that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide lowers the nutritional content of plants, which he said could have been a secondary driver of dwarfism during the PETM.

###

Other co-authors on the paper are Doug M. Boyer of Brooklyn College, Aaron R. Wood of the Florida Museum of Natural History, Scott L. Wing of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Mary J. Kraus of the University of Colorado-Boulder, Francesca A. McInerny of Northwestern University, and John Krigbaum of the University of Florida.

The research was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, with additional support from UNL.

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124 thoughts on “They shrink horses, don't they?

  1. “Their findings also offer clues to what might happen to animals in the near future from global warming.”
    Clues to what might happen? Did I read that right? Of course I did. A clue is a snippet. A tidbit of information. A clue to something that “might” happen is a snippet of infinitesimally small proportions, which just as likely “might” point to something else. In the near future. How far? Five minutes? Five Hundred Years? Might, squared. In other words, WTFK? Yes, who, indeed. Another Meme-Club member (inserts CC assertion here). I’ve given up trying to figure out what kind of world these people live in.

  2. **Scientists have assumed that rising temperatures or high concentrations of carbon dioxide primarily caused the phenomenon in mammals during this period**
    And there you have post-modern environmental science described in a nutshell.

  3. http://www.archive.org/details/our_mr_sun
    try our new video/audio player ? (beta!)
    From the description in Rick Prelinger’s Field Guide to Sponsored Films:
    Popular scientific film directed by Frank Capra that launched the Bell System Science series. Combining animation and live action, Our Mr. Sun uses a scientist-writer team to present information about the sun and its importance to humankind. NOTE: Produced in Technicolor, the film was originally telecast in 1956 and 1957 to 9 million homes; some 600 16mm prints were distributed to schools and community organizations through the Bell Telephone System film libraries.

  4. I do enjoy the sci-fi of the past. I’m always astounded by what people come up with to descibe previous times; but moreso with what gets passed off as if it’s fact.

  5. What an incredible collection of debunked nonsense, vague half-truths, and all out delusional speculation.
    I damn near fell out of my chair when I read:
    “Sifrhippus lived during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a 175,000-year interval of time some 56 million years ago in which average global temperatures rose by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, caused by the release of vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and oceans.”
    These propagandists don’t bother to mention that most of NA was covered by dense woodland, not exactly the best environment for a Clydesdale. Sheesh!

  6. Horses were extinct in the Americas until the Spaniards showed up.
    Perhaps they shrank so much they dissapeared.

  7. What a target rich source.
    One could better assert that paleo-ponies respond to changes in oxygen isotope ratios. (More likely changes in their ecological niche, but that doesn’t get grant money.)
    With a “one-to-one shift in body size” and a “warming of as much as 4 degrees Centigrade” inverse relationship, a hundred years from now race horses will be a quarter what they are currently. Unfortunately, that ecological niche is filled by greyhounds.
    Even the least of us will be able to “ride tall in the saddle,” as they used to say about John Wayne.
    I’d better quit.

  8. Bill,
    If memory serves – I’m feeling to lazy to struggle over to the Wikipedia – the early odd toed ungulates evolved in a forest environment and gradually lost their toes as they moved out onto the newly evolving savannah.
    W^3

  9. What will happen? Probably the same thing that happened when 3 ices ages saw the temperature go up and down even more dramatically that during ther 130,000 years: nothing.
    I presume they have some proof from these teeth that the CO2 rise preceded the temperature rise by a few years, not followed it by 800 as happens the rest of the time.
    This is a fine example of turning otherwise interesting and ordinary research into a nail-biting shriller.

  10. Work it out, dudes. When the African elephant migrated to South Asia, the shock of the greatly intensified heat shrank the big fellas right down to their sperm and ova. No?

  11. What if what ever it was that caused the temperature to rise also caused mammals to shrink. Since nobody’s looking past their nose we’ll never know.

  12. w.w.wygart says:
    February 23, 2012 at 5:34 pm
    Bill,
    If memory serves – I’m feeling to lazy to struggle over to the Wikipedia – the early odd toed ungulates evolved in a forest environment and gradually lost their toes as they moved out onto the newly evolving savannah.
    W^3
    —————————
    Savannah didn’t really exist until about 8 million years ago. From 55 Mya until 8 Mya, the planet was mostly forested except for Antarctica (starting about 40 Mya) and the northern parts of Greenland (starting about 10 Mya).
    So, these are not the same horses with the same digestive system that horses have today. Just as a further example, there were 50 different species of Apes on the planet 10 Mya (one of which lead to us and gorillas and chimpanzees – not sure about the other Apes).

  13. This is exciting!
    So if humans also shrink to half size that would be about one quarter our mass.
    Viola population problem solved, we could then crowd at least 28 billion people on our planet.
    Another benefit of global warming. /sarc

  14. You are probably correct about the grass. Until then the food supply was limited and size varied with the level of food competition. I had a botany professor years ago who pointed out that there are a lot of silica edged grasses out there that nothing can really eat. He wondered what the large buffet was being set for, hypothesizing that eventually some successful species would figure out how to tap this huge food supply.
    I am wary of their temperature correlation with size as most of our largest mammals are from warm regions. Duh.
    It may just be my faulty memory, but weren’t the dinosaurs inhabitants of a rather warm, lush planet? And there were some fairly GIANT species.
    Of course, their assumptions about CO2 are simply them spouting propaganda = the money phrase = please give us more funding.

  15. Bill Illis says:
    February 23, 2012 at 5:05 pm
    Grass didn’t even evolve until 25 to 30 million years later. What was the cat-sized horse eating.
    =================================================
    LOL…..Bill you’re right
    They were eating woody vegetation, fruits, roots, etc
    The move to grasses made them smaller
    ….grass is harder to digest
    But I guess they can blame global warming or higher CO2 levels for the evolution of grasses…
    ..Which would be more or less correct
    Only that it was the evolution of grasses, and the fact that they are more efficient at reducing CO2 levels, that have brought CO2 levels so low now that it’s limiting
    We’re only going to get smaller if we forget how to farm….

  16. I thought the eocene saw the advent of the first plus-sized herbivorous mammals like the Coryphodon , Uintatherium and the Arsinoitherium along with carnivorous critters like the Mesonyx and Hyaenodon . Nevermind the presence of the avian gastornis giganteus which was probably a carnivore as well ?
    With many heavy animals competing with them for for the large herbivore ecological niche and predators becoming heavier , losing mass and gaining agility would become a survival plus for the Sifrhippus . Not that we`ll ever know for sure because of gaps in the fossil record but food supply/competition and types of predatory animals are overwhelming drivers for size in either direction , and with the exception of rapid onset glaciation periods and it`s possible correlation with extinction events for megafauna at high latitudes ( snow/ice too thick for megafauna to survive in/on ? ) milder temperatures would seem to have little effect .
    Also , the ability to store fat and increasing density of insulating fur are far more likely responses within species to cooling conditions and the loss of those abilities/traits during warming conditions than size but these are hard things to determine from fossil records so You need to look at modern equivalents .
    If You compare two closely related modern animals that fill the same eco-niche , i.e. Grévy’s zebra and the Mongolian horse , they live in entirely different climates temperature-wise but very similar food supply , namely semi-arid grassland and are about the same size .
    All in all it looks to Me as if some paleontologists struggling for funding have been forced to go to the global warming money trough to feed their research as in this age of post-normal science there seems to be no money availible for real research unless it supports the meme .
    P.S.( If any paleontologists have theories/data on how the fauna of the eocene interacted range/ timescale I would love to see any links to it , I`ve always been fascinated with the post-dinosaur megafauna but it seems to be quite hard to find good sites covering it )

  17. So, if the study says that a third of mammals got smaller during this period… what happened to the other two-thirds of mammals? Did they stay the same? Did they get bigger?
    I mean, I read that line and it makes me think “most mammals during this period did NOT respond that way to the warmer climate.” Is that crazy of me?

  18. This is a FWIW posting in case someone is interested.
    Horses that landed on Sable Island (off Nova Scotia), either brought there intentionally or shipwrecked, have evolved smaller. But whether it is the chilly location or the limited food supply that caused the recessive evolution I can’t say, but my money is on the food supply mostly. Someone sentenced to Siberia noticed that it was the big people who died first, because the food ration was the same for everybody and bigger people just needed more food.

  19. Well, this PROVES my theory that the rest of you have laughed at…
    As temperatures rise, humans, as well as horses, get smaller. The obvious proof that this is causation and not simple correlation is seen in the range of human species inhabitants of various climates.
    As you all will respectfully take note, the Inuit in the frigid north are HUGE, while their counterparts in the slightly warmer Rwanda region are horribly diminutive. Thousands of years of gradual climate change have caused this catastrophic anomaly, which we must study in depth to understand.
    If we only had some more grant money…..

  20. Over human history…. man was how big 10,000years ago? Man is, on average, how big now with what difference in global mean temperature?
    Inuit in the very cold north are how big? Tutsi in the very warm equator, are….how big?
    Perhaps temperature is not necessarily a good metric for what drives size?

  21. Ed MacAulay says:
    February 23, 2012 at 5:58 pm
    This is exciting!
    So if humans also shrink to half size that would be about one quarter our mass.
    Viola population problem solved, we could then crowd at least 28 billion people on our planet.
    Another benefit of global warming. /sarc
    Yeah, but it would be hard to walk up and down the stairs!

  22. Oh, good grief………
    What’s next horseometers as a “proxy” for past temperatures ? Or Paleoequinineclimatalogy…….. Can’t you just see “Dr.” Mann posing in front of a horse fossil ? How many rings does a Horse that lived in an “unchanged climate” have anyway ?
    Animals of all different sizes live all over the place, with wide temperature extremes. Ever heard of the Elephant Seal ? Have you ever heard of a Shrew Seal ?
    Cheers, Kevin.

  23. Animals may increase or decrease in size for all kinds of complex clusters of reasons. Sometimes an animal may adapt as a result of an “arms race” with a predator species. The increased size may help make it less of an easy target. A species may decrease in size due to lack of available resources – especially evident when species are limited to isolated zones such as islands.
    While there is little doubt that climate change over geological time scales is a primary driver of evolutionary adoption, drawing a simplistic correlation between temperature and body size is so stupid that it should be embarrassing for someone with academic qualifications to assert such a claim. Worst kind of junk science here.

  24. One possible conclusion is… they’re wrong.
    Warmer conditions generally lead to stronger individuals, and improved species health. It seems to be true of humans, anyway. Lots of recent research suggests that humans were about 2 – 3″ taller in the Middle Ages (when it was warmer), and began to decline some time after 12th century. At the onset of the Little Ice Age, various economic and environmental factors (malnutrition, plague, etc.), affected size negatively.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/books/robert-w-fogel-investigates-human-evolution.html?pagewanted=all

    But the basic argument is rather simple: that the health and nutrition of pregnant mothers and their children contribute to the strength and longevity of the next generation. If babies are deprived of sufficient nutrition in the womb and early in life, they will be more fragile and more vulnerable to diseases later on. These weakened adults will, in turn, produce weaker offspring in a self-reinforcing spiral.
    As climate began to warm again, people’s growth picked up, and today we have an increasingly well-nourished world, whose sizes are reflective of that. (Some might say it’s a bit overnourished in America.)
    http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/04/27/books/27body-grfk.html?ref=books
    As for horses, the loss in sized in a warming world is counterintuitive at best. Could they be missing something?

  25. Of course, the birds can tell that the temp has risen a few tenths of a degree.
    “Ornithologists, Secord said, have already started to notice that there may be a decrease in body size among birds.”
    They must be really confused now that it’s been cooling for a few years!

  26. What the heck;
    “Increased temperatures are not the only change animals will have to adapt to, Secord said. Greenhouse experiments show that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide lowers the nutritional content of plants, which he said could have been a secondary driver of dwarfism during the PETM.”
    Last I have read was how increased CO2 increased bushels per acre, and now is there less nutritional value in the extra bushels?

  27. Bill Illis says:February 23, 2012 at 5:05 pm
    “Grass didn’t even evolve until 25 to 30 million years later. What was the cat-sized horse eating.”
    Exactly. Animal evolution is more closely tied to plant evolution than to temperature or CO2.

  28. On my page of this post there is ad for shorts. I like the one with 5 inch inseams, for two reasons. One they will keep me cooler when global warming hits, and two since I will shrink over the next 100 years, the shorts won’t be over my knees.

  29. I am amazed that you can still find seven other people who would have their names attached to such a flawed bucket of swill. Is there a University of Lincoln on another planet somewhere ?

  30. Bill Parsons says:
    February 23, 2012 at 7:46 pm
    “As for horses, the loss in sized in a warming world is counterintuitive at best. Could they be missing something?”
    Perhaps the tyrannosaurs couldn’t see them?

  31. The native inhabitants of Tierra Del Fuego are huge. Captain Cook said they towered over him and he was 6 feet tall. They lived in a very cold climate and wore no clothes. Drawings from the era show them to be very tall. Tall, cold…..hmmm…..

  32. So in addition to everything else CO2 is a diet aid?. When this news gets out fossil fuel companies have developed a cure for obesity, surely they will share the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

  33. “Greenhouse experiments show that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide lowers the nutritional content of plants, …”
    This piece of propaganda is actually true, sort of. The experiment is one that has been designed for students to perform. It is set up in such a way as to yield a dramatic result. The trick is that the same amount of nutrients, water and light is given to each group but that amount has been designed to be the bare minimum to support the slower growing group, the lighting also is set up to drop off quickly with height. The result is that the high CO2 plants are starved! That these so called researchers are regurgitating long debunked experiment shows that they are either completely clueless and/or deliberately deceitful.

  34. OMG!!! It’s happening NOW! Horses are shrinking in Minnesota!
    Minnesota Horse Expo – miniature horse video

  35. Ed MacAulay says:
    February 23, 2012 at 5:58 pm
    I had the exact same thought. If humans shrink down to the size of Hobbits, the earth will have much more space, and the more the merrier!
    “Phil R says:
    February 23, 2012 at 7:21 pm
    Yeah, but it would be hard to walk up and down the stairs!”
    Hopefully we won’t evolve too fast, but even if we do, science will likely solve the great “Staircase Problem.” Of course, Warmists will say the problem can’t be solved, and we’d all be better off freezing.

  36. If I remember correctly, most of the world had a tropical climate during the Jurassic and Triassic periods. So by the logic of this paper, the dinosaurs were all small, right?

  37. From the droning blather on Mac the Knife’s video link: “Which brings up an important point. These horses are not ponies, they are horses in miniature.” I may not know about Eocene fauna, but I know this is hogwash. Miniature horses ARE ponies, interbred with the smallest Arabians. They extensively used Shetland ponies for the early stock. Moreover, Miniatures are generally restricted in their feed and ‘sweated down” to keep them slim… otherwise they look like hairy coffee tables. They exhibit the symptoms of dwarfism that is a key factor in Shetland ponies. Hydrocephalus foals are not uncommon.
    As to the size of the Eocene horses shrinking, that was all about food, nothing to do with climate. Are the tiny deer in Japan, tiny because it is so terribly hot there? Nooo…. Are Zebras now the size of Pekinese because Africa is so hot? What an embarrassing paper. ‘Phoo, what a looney’, as Black Adder would say.

  38. Did we learn now that CAGW will lead straight to dwarfism?
    This would mean 1 hamburger could feed 2 people, one bathtub full would suffice for 2?
    This is how we can save resources…half the bills, half the gas, the airplains will carry
    twice the people in one flight…..
    Who says CAGW is terrible? Humans will/can adapt ……
    Its an Warmist lie that the penguins will be the real survivors on Earth, “because they
    can breed on the idle rocks of the Antarktis holding teir eggs between the legs…”
    Mankind will not die out but adapt, and this is the good news….
    JS

  39. Toto says:
    February 23, 2012 at 8:39 pm
    Can we call this the “Myth of Sifrhippus”?
    Easy for you to say.

  40. pochas says:
    February 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm
    Bill Parsons says:
    February 23, 2012 at 7:46 pm
    “As for horses, the loss in sized in a warming world is counterintuitive at best. Could they be missing something?”
    Perhaps the tyrannosaurs couldn’t see them?

    Indeed, it would have been hard to see such prey, inasmuch as it evolved 15 or 20 million years after the extinction of the Rex. Unless it had tachyon-sensitive eyeballs.

  41. “Their findings also offer clues to what might happen to animals in the near future from global warming.”
    Too late, here in Hong Long, I’ve got a couple of Asian elephants curled up at the foot of my bed. They’re pink.

  42. Now wait just a darn minute. Decades ago scientists were saying that in a COLD world, things get smaller, including humans. I remember seeing a drawing in I think National Geographic, that depicted what a human would look like in the next ice age and they were short. Like me.
    Is this another one of those, “If things get smaller the world is warming. And if things get smaller the world is cooling. And its all our fault.”?

  43. So hot climates lead to tiny animals. That’s why there are no large mammals in Africa, India, South East Asia, or South America.
    Elephants, Giraffes, Tigers, Lions, Hippos, Tapirs, Jaguars, Capybara, Gorillas, Rhinos, Orangutans, Water Buffaloes, etc, etc. all live on the praries of Alberta or in the mighty forests of British Columbia.

  44. Thank goodness for heat-related dwarfism. Otherwise, T. Rex would have been 5000 feet long, and weighed more than 100 blue whales! He would have swallowed the Chuxulub meteorite and belched, and then set out to munch everything that otherwise evolved to produce us humans. We caught a break, folks.

  45. So people who work in greenhouses (where CO2 is elevated to several thousand ppmv to promote plant growth) can expect to get smaller?
    Maybe those who are overweight (or tired of having to find Big and Tall shops) should be preferentially selected for greenhouse jobs.
    On the other hand, I’m shrinking with age, so should I get a CO2 collector and hope to regain my height from an atmosphere devoid of that gas?
    So many questions–so few answers.

  46. I keep reading that this or that will happen because of global warming. What bloody global warming are these fools talking about? Does any reporter actually ask the so called scientists about the amount of global warming they are speculating on? Idiots.

  47. Brian H says:
    February 23, 2012 at 9:13 pm
    pochas says:
    February 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm
    Bill Parsons says:
    February 23, 2012 at 7:46 pm
    “As for horses, the loss in sized in a warming world is counterintuitive at best. Could they be missing something?”
    Perhaps the tyrannosaurs couldn’t see them?
    Indeed, it would have been hard to see such prey, inasmuch as it evolved 15 or 20 million years after the extinction of the Rex. Unless it had tachyon-sensitive eyeballs.

    I think Pochas was being facetious. How about crocodiles?
    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/hothouse-earth/block-photography#/05-bighorn-oxidized-soil-670.jpg

  48. Oh! I can see it now. As CO2 rises and temperatures soar, we humans are all going to shrink to the size of Leprechauns. We won’t be able to reach up to the doorknobs and the light switches. We will all be trapped indoors watching television in the dark for eternity.
    What an unrivalled, unrelieved load of twaddle sponsored by the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

  49. Crispin in Waterloo says:
    February 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm
    What will happen? Probably the same thing that happened when 3 ices ages saw the temperature go up and down even more dramatically that during ther 130,000 years: nothing.

    Niot quite true. There is a general tendency that animals grow slightly larger during ice ages and smaller during interglacials. This has been known for close on 200 years. For details google “Bergmanns rule”.
    I presume they have some proof from these teeth that the CO2 rise preceded the temperature rise by a few years, not followed it by 800 as happens the rest of the time.
    There is no reliable way of measuring CO2 over short periods that far back, and as far as I know nobody has ever managed to measure it at all for the PETM (which is quite short geologically speaking). What can be measured with precision is the isotopic changes of carbon which are interpreted as being due to the release of massive amounts of organic carbon. For what it’s worth it does seem that temperature start rising slightly before the isotopes start shifting.
    In any case there is nothing new in this. It was described in detail by Gingerich twenty years ago from the very same site (Polecat bench) (Gingerich, P.D., 1989, New earliest Wasatchian mammalian fauna from the Eocene of northwestern Wyoming: Composition and diversity in a rarely sampled high-floodplain assemblage: University of Michigan Papers on
    Paleontology, v. 28, p. 1–97, available at: http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/48628) and reviewed by him in 2003 as: Mammalian responses to climate change at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary: Polecat Bench record in the northern Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. Geological Society of America Special Paper 369. (available at:http://www-personal.umich.edu/~gingeric/PDFfiles/PDG402_Mammresppebound.pdf)
    Notice that the title has been “sexed up” quite a bit between 1989 and 2003.
    This is an excellent example of “press-release science”, a rehash of well-known facts as new “research” with a CAGW slant.

  50. In the carboniferous CO2 levels went from something like 3000ppm to 300ppm over 100million years during which the coal seams were laid down. Note the word “seamS. It was not one big dump. It was repeated change in sea level. Whatcauses repeated changes in sea level? Glaciers. Anyway the interesting bit is that it was due to a new material in plants called lignin which it appears to have taken fungi a 100million years to work out how to decompose.
    But the main point is that plant evolution can be a strong driver of atmospheric change.
    So when some numb-skull says that horses responded to climate. What appears far more likely is that horse and climate responded to some change in plant or perhaps general evolution.
    Now for years, I’ve been telling my kids that rabbits killed the dinosaurs. OK, that’s just fun, but in the time of the dinosaurs, there was no grass, after the time of the dinosaur there is grass. Grass is a habitat that exists because of grass grazers. Grass grazers have teeth that cut the grass low to the ground … which is alright for grass as it grows again from the root. However it is death for most other plants particularly trees which grow from the tip.
    So a habitat of grass-“rabbit” i.e. small mammals, would evolve together as a very aggressive environment – and it is now virtually impossible to find any habitat in the world where there is not grass from under the sea to the highest mountain tops (in Scotland).
    The point is that animal evolution is tied to plant evolution. And visa versa. And I suppose animals use bacteria to digest grass … so even changes to gut fauna could drive evolution. Perhaps either the grass changed to become more easily digested, or the bacteria fauna in the gut or …
    But the real clincher is that paper that shows that local vegetative cover effects local climate. So, we already know type of vegetation is a driver of climate.
    Now, if they had come up with some research explaining why Shetland ponies have unique hair that is extra long to sustain them in the cold. Or why pit ponies were smaller. Or why cart horses are so big. NOw that really would have been worth a grant .

  51. So they shrank 30% in 130,000 years and scientists claim they have already detected to effect after 40 years? Seems there is some sort of logical disconnect .
    Nevertheless, if it turns out to be a universal effect it holds out hope for the future of the human race, as presumably smaller people will consume less resources per capita and thus reduce the impact of overpopulation.

  52. observa says: February 24, 2012 at 12:13 am
    We know that 97% of climate scientists agree the sky is falling
    The consensus of those who believe in a consensus is that there is a consensus amongst the consensus that the consensus is true. However there is also a consensus amongst those who do not believe in the consensus that a consensus amongst the consensus that the consensus is true is a con sent us .

  53. “Greenhouse experiments show that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide lowers the nutritional content of plants”
    The C/N ratio changes somewhat in the leaves, that means that you have more carbohydrates and less proteins, but in the seeds, the ratio remains largely the same. Because most herbivores eat a mix, the influence is minimal. Only for some caterpillars it may be important, but that are not horses…
    For humans that doesn’t show up: both the tallest (Tutsi) and the smallest (pygmees) evolved in the hotter parts of the globe…

  54. “Toto says:
    February 23, 2012 at 8:39 pm
    Can we call this the “Myth of Sifrhippus”?”
    You could but I couldn’t! 😉
    On one of my agw presentation slides I use a line “if it was an undergrad dissertation it would fail”. This ‘paper’ justifies that comment. If a dissertation was presented to me that started with “I’ve just assumed the main correlation” it would fail. How do they get away with it????

  55. Here’s a thought.
    Just recently when I’ve posted skeptical opinions on other blogs…I have been labelled a Denier and bundled with ‘Creationists’.
    Gleick in his dreary film posted at the top of WUWT…reckons that with proper ‘education’
    “we can do for climate change what we’ve done for Evolution.”
    This seems to be a new Warmist smear tactic.
    But isn’t it fascinating then that none of the people who have posted above, most of whom are AGW skeptics, appear to hold Creationist viewpoints?
    Warmism really is clutching at straws now.

  56. A very long time ago when I was a little boy I’ve been told that storks are delivering babies. Every fall they’ld fly to the big baby cradle to fetch new babies and bring them to us in spring or summer.
    So you need a lot of storks to do that delivery service. As time went by stork’s population shrank and so did birth rates. When the stork population grew again there was a baby boom in our country. A perfect correlation and a good proof /irony.

  57. Seems everyone has covered why this is crap science. Found one curious line I hadn’t heard before, perhaps political, to counter the increasing plant growth from CO2.
    Greenhouse experiments show that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide lowers the nutritional content of plants, which he said could have been a secondary driver of dwarfism during the PETM.

  58. http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/breaking-news/global-warming-shrank-horses-to-size-of-miniature-schnauzers-study-claims/story-e6frea73-1226280192006
    as always any climate crap is NOT allowed comments there:-)
    I spat and spun on reading it!
    soooo assbackwards, and presented as experts talking so it has to be true.
    I never cease to be amazed at how you CAN teach and promulgate Stupid! in whats supposed to be an enlightened society.
    if this? is enlightened the bulbs burnt out!

  59. Quite a lot of evidence for what has been called “Cope’s law” I think. This is the observation that individuals tend to be larger in the northern (in the northern hemisphere) part of their ranges. China is a good case in point. Northern Chinese average much taller than southern Chinese. You can see the same thing in Europe, with Scandanavians taller than Italians. This makes good sense considering thermoregulation and surface area to body volume arguments. The same observation has been made for many mammal species.

  60. I wonder what the growth graph of horses living near Yamal would look like?
    FIW, there are a whole lot of short people living in Florida.

  61. My Grandfather was born is a cold country. He was short. My parents grew up in a cool area, but they were above average height. I grew up in the Tropics (on the equator), and I am just under 2 meters tall. Confounding factors.

  62. Dinosaurs would have been absolutely massive if it hadn’t been so warm. Or was it the other way around? If it was the other way around, perhaps the predators got bigger as it got warmer, and ate all the larger horses, until only the smaller ones managed to survive? The sabre toothed Beagle was absolutely enormous in its day, although it suffered from having short legs. Try as it might, it could not catch horses the size of cats.

  63. Okay–So I got hung up on the picture. Looks just like my Eagle–a Morgan–touching noses with one of the cats. As for the theory–hogwash.

  64. If we look at the smaller breeds of horse (other than those bred for work in mines etc) they tend to be found on marginal islands, generally northern (although this may reflect the lesser use of horses in hot climates, and a general later introduction from Eurasia rather than be significant).
    Their smaller size reflects the relative scarcity of food, and also perhaps other adaptions to a tough environment (greater size means greater heat loss in winter for example (or at night in a sub-tropical desert)). In effect, this is evolution in action (as observed elsewhere – e.g. the pygmy elephants of the Meditaranean islands during the last ice age) – the mutations that make survival in the environment easiest (in a marginal environment, generally smaller size) win out.
    So if climate change is causing the size of animals to change, does this mean they are effectively ruling out evolution? In the way that those of us who doubt the science of man-made climate change is fully correct are accused of doing with no basis…

  65. Watchman says:
    February 24, 2012 at 6:14 am

    Their smaller size reflects the relative scarcity of food, and also perhaps other adaptions to a tough environment (greater size means greater heat loss in winter for example) (

    Somewhat spotty and confused posting. Actually, greater size means lowered heat loss. Surface area goes up as the square of height, while volume and mass go up as the cube. The ratio of exposed surface to total mass drops with increasing size. E.g.: Polar bears are the largest on the planet.

  66. It is apparent to me that there may well be a direct correlation between the rise in atmospheric CO2 and both the size and IQ of your average climate scientist’s brain. The correlation would of course be an inverted one…
    Cheers
    Mark

  67. I guess that means that we, as humans have shrunk considerably since the AGW began 200 years ago…

  68. I have two hypotheses I’ve developed regarding this particular species. The first is this species had some growth gene that was adversely effected by an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Therefore, as CO2 concentration rose, these horses got smaller. Eventually they got so small they couldn’t adapt to the food supply then available to them and died off. The second hypothesis is they got smaller to adapt to the changing flora (or to better evade predators) and eventually got so small they disappeared from the fossil record. But they still exist, only in the forest, and when seen, are mistaken for some common arboreal rodent species.
    Hey you all, don’t laugh or criticize me, my two hypotheses are at least as good as the BS these so-called scientists have put forth. Apparently PhD’s are given away at the universities these days.

  69. Does the study use temp records based on isotopes and then studies the teeth based on isotopes? No wonder the correlation would be 1:1.
    As for size, animal size is driven by food availability and predation. Food availability is driven by food being present and competition for that food.

  70. Several years ago a documentary on the dwarf elephants and people of south east Asia put forth that the scarcity of food is what drove size change not temperature. So why the Masai and Watusi in Africa?

  71. “Grass didn’t even evolve until 25 to 30 million years later. What was the cat-sized horse eating.”
    Horse-sized cats, maybe?

  72. There is no reliable way of measuring CO2 over short periods that far back, and as far as I know nobody has ever managed to measure it at all for the PETM (which is quite short geologically speaking).

    This 12-year-old study claims to (see graphs lower down):
    paleolands.com/pdf/cenozoicCO2.pdf
    But I would want to know whether their margins of error aren’t so large that they allow the same fatal mistakes that other AGW paleo studies make – that CO2 drove temps, rather than that the temps (or some geological disruptions) drove changes in CO2. If the former, the post here is the same dog-wagging tail that we’ve seen before.
    My hunch-of-the-day is that even in the thermal maximum there were sudden fluctuations of temperature (perhaps even more dramatic than in stable periods of moderate temps). A cold spell brought a sudden change in available food, a change in predation, and “Presto” (so to speak), a few hundred (thousands?) of generations later horses have lost considerable size and are inhabiting a different ecological niche, even (devolving / evolving) into a smaller species altogether.
    One part of the ever-popular “Hothouse Earth” article from National Geo fleshes out the Gingerich research (same area) with pictures. It says that the “most popular” explanation of the sudden carbon spike is still the oldest one: heat drove the releases:

    Many sources have been suggested for the PETM carbon spike, and given the amount of carbon, it likely came from more than one. At the end of the Paleocene, Europe and Greenland were pulling apart and opening the North Atlantic, resulting in massive volcanic eruptions that could have cooked carbon dioxide out of organic sediments on the seafloor, though probably not fast enough to explain the isotope spikes. Wildfires might have burned through Paleocene peat deposits, although so far soot from such fires has not turned up in sediment cores. A giant comet smashing into carbonate rocks also could have released a lot of carbon very quickly, but as yet there is no direct evidence of such an impact.
    The oldest and still the most popular hypothesis is that much of the carbon came from large deposits of methane hydrate, a peculiar, icelike compound that consists of water molecules forming a cage around a single molecule of methane. Hydrates are stable only in a narrow band of cold temperatures and high pressures; large deposits of them are found today under the Arctic tundra and under the seafloor, on the slopes that link the continental shelves to the deep abyssal plains. At the PETM an initial warming from somewhere—perhaps the volcanoes, perhaps slight fluctuations in Earth’s orbit that exposed parts of it to more sunlight—might have melted hydrates and allowed methane molecules to slip from their cages and bubble into the atmosphere.

  73. Bill Illis:
    I am recalling this from memory, but I believe grasses first evolved during the latest Cretaceous, at around 66 m.a. or perhaps just a little bit later. So grasses were around in the Paleocene.
    I invite you to check out post No. 1 at http://suspectterrane.blogspot.com/
    for a glimpse into the truly, stupendously mundane conclusion that climate affects evolution.
    Tom

  74. Just in case anyone is confused, Sifrhippus sandrae is the current name for what used to be called Eohippus (“dawn horse”) or Hyracotherium. It would be correct to call it the first equid found in North America but it definitely was not the first horse as that term is generally understood. Equid and horse are not synonymous terms.
    The Wiki article on evolution of the horse gives a simplified understanding of where it fits in.

  75. I wish that I could take credit for the following comment, but it is from someone else, who is like a brother to me:
    “Another one of nature’s marvelous self-correcting mechanisms. We will all get smaller as the planet heats. Cities will be tiny and closer together. Cars will be smaller and more fuel-efficient, and who will go far in them anyway? You’ll be able to boil an egg in your tiny pot in seconds. Warm yourself by a match. Fossil fuel use will plummet, the planet will cool back down again. Then we can all re-inflate. Ain’t nature grand?”

  76. Has anyone found any Pygmy Arabian stallions?

    Sifrhippus lived during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a 175,000-year interval of time some 56 million years ago in which average global temperatures rose by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, caused by the release of vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and oceans.

    On a serious note, I thought that the cause of the PETM is under debate.

  77. That’s why everything’s smaller in Texas. I sometimes wonder if the scientists who publish this stuff aren’t giggling a little when they get their preprints.

  78. Tom G(ologist) says:
    February 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm
    Bill Illis:
    I am recalling this from memory, but I believe grasses first evolved during the latest Cretaceous, at around 66 m.a. or perhaps just a little bit later. So grasses were around in the Paleocene.
    ———————
    I was going from memory as well. I guess it was the C4 grasses I was thinking of which evolved 32 to 25 million years ago. (Interesting that CO2 fell below 280 ppm for perhaps the very first time 24 million years ago just as the C4 pathway evolved). It was this evolutionary step which allowed grasses to become dominant in low precipitation environments (and especially low precipitation, hot environments). There was no savanna/steppe/grassland environments around until much after the PETM and mostly only starting 8 million years ago.

  79. I wonder why those pesky dinosaurs grew so big in all that warmth? Or where they bigsmall? Can you imagine the size they would have been in a cooler world? Heh, heh. ;>)

  80. “Ornithologists, Secord said, have already started to notice that there may be a decrease in body size among birds.”
    Is that because the smaller ones can fly more rapidly through the blades of the windmills?

  81. “One of the issues here is that warming (during the PETM) happened much slower, over 10,000 to 20,000 years to get 10 degrees hotter, whereas now we’re expecting it to happen over a century or two,” Secord said. “So there’s a big difference in scale and one of the questions is, ‘Are we going to see the same kind of response?’ Are animals going to be able to keep up and readjust their body sizes over the next couple of centuries?”
    Secord must have skipped the classes that dealt with Natural Selection.
    If smaller animals are better adapted to warmer temperatures, it doesn’t mean larger animals are less able to survive warmer temperatures. Just that they can’t compete with smaller animals. So larger animals will handle warmer temperatures just fine until the smaller animals come along, however long that takes.

  82. In Africa we have the stunted Masai, the huge Pygmys, the average sized people of the West African tropics. What the hell has heat got to do with it? Furthermore, Africa has the greatest human genetic diversity of any continent. Why doesn’t heat point them in the direction of shrinkage? Hutus should be Pygmys.
    I don’t suppose other factors like food and terrain have anything to do with this horse sh** study?

  83. Why are the tropics so bereft of life? Why are their creatures so tiny? Just look at the elephants and rhinos. It is a travesty and we must cool the Earth and reduce co2 in order to encourage biodiversity and larger animals in Sweden.

  84. Please add below to previous post. (incomplete)
    Yet any increases in temperatures show no evidence it stalled the continued growth of the evloution of the horse. One of the very few species known that has actually increased in size over millions of years during a long cooling period. Many dinosaurs, early birds, reptiles, insects, ocean life and first mammals were much bigger than nowadays. (during times of much warmer climates)

  85. Pamela Gray says:
    February 23, 2012 at 9:41 pm
    Now wait just a darn minute. Decades ago scientists were saying that in a COLD world, things get smaller, including humans. I remember seeing a drawing in I think National Geographic,………………..

    Pamela, get with the program. They now predict everything dontcha know. It has become a religion and thus unfalsifiable.

  86. ““It was absolutely startling when Ross pulled up the first oxygen isotope data,” Bloch said. “We looked at the curve and we realized that it was exactly the same pattern that we were seeing with the horse body size….”
    Dating these horsetooth thermometer fossils in successive order across a 130,000 year period and making sure the horses were of comparable ages at time of death and preservation must have been a real challenge.

  87. Gleick in his dreary film posted at the top of WUWT…reckons that with proper ‘education’
    “we can do for climate change what we’ve done for Evolution.”
    This seems to be a new Warmist smear tactic.
    But isn’t it fascinating then that none of the people who have posted above, most of whom are AGW skeptics, appear to hold Creationist viewpoints?
    Warmism really is clutching at straws now.

    In my experience AGW believers are the ones would most benefit from education on evolution.
    I commonly come across AGWers who ‘believe; in evolution (natural selection) but don’t understand it.
    They think evolution is deterministic consistent with their deterministic ‘progressive’ politics, which of course it is not.
    The error that Secord made, which I noted above, is also quite common.

  88. High temperatures probably had little to do with the reduced size of mammals during this period. The most likely cause was the increase in surface gravitation at that time. This is explained at http://www.dinoextinct.com, click on ‘The Gravity Theory of Mass Extinction’ to view a PDF summary of the theory.
    The largest dinosaurs of the Mesozoic, the sauropods, existed primarily in near-equatorial regions of Pangea where temperatures were higher than they are today.

  89. They think evolution is deterministic exactly as climate is deterministic. Of course climate influences evolution. Any environment change does that. And there is a maximal limit imposed by environment temperature, because the surface tends to grow as square of the radius, and the volume as the cube of the radius. And the generated thermal energy is proportional with the volume, while the dissipated one is proportional with the surface. Apparently TRex didn’t know much of those, or didn’t care much.

  90. About a third of mammal species responded with significant reduction in size during the PETM, some by as much as one-half.

    What do you want to bet that another third got LARGER and the last third stay about the same?
    Prey animals often get smaller in response to predation (as predators eat the larger ones and the smaller ones hide better or more easily). In some cases, once large enough, they can get larger as that makes them harder for all but big predators to take down. Animals on islands often shrink in response to food pressures. Any chance the continents where rearranging then?…
    Oh, and does the increase in size of humans from about 3 feet to about 6 feet over the last few million years mean that the globe is more frozen now? How about the increase from about 4 feet 9 inchs or so to 6 feet 3 inches in the last several hundred years, so that must mean we’re positively frozen by now…
    Sheesh… I wonder if “Advanced Fiction and Creative Writing” are now required courses for a B.S. degree in BS…

  91. I often double-check the data in these kind of papers because it often does not match the proposition being advanced. In many cases, the data says the opposite conclusion should have been reached. In this case, however, it does seem to match up.
    They measured the molar size of the horse fossils, which are exceedingly small at one third of a square centimetre. This should have a very large error margin. How do you measure fossil teeth width to the nearest 1 hundreth of a millimetre as they have done.
    And their dating technique has some problems in that the larger, earlier horse are not dated exactly so the timeline could be extended back a few hundred thousand years probably. In addition, they squeezed the middle of the dating, so that 15 metres of soil/rock accumulation happens over just 15,000 years while over the whole 450,000 year timeframe, there is only 76 metres of accumulation. I don’t know if that is realistic. It wouldn’t change the result that much, just that the times could be off some.
    Otherwise, here is your horse molar size versus time over the PETM.
    http://img32.imageshack.us/img32/9695/horsesatpetm.png

  92. re post by: Bill Illis says: February 23, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Grass didn’t even evolve until 25 to 30 million years later. What was the cat-sized horse eating.

    Bill, I believe recent research has found grasses existed as far back as 60 to 70 million years ago, and was grazed on by some dinosaurs.
    What equine ancestors actually ate, however, is still a totally valid question. Even today while horses do survive primarily on grass, and are very picky eaters compared to cows, sheep, goats, etc., they will eat and nibble on a surprising number of other things. I had horses for many years and had no clue about the variety of things they’ll eat, without harm, if they have access to it.
    Mine used to actually love to eat the fuzz off large poison ivy roots!! Fortunately I don’t react much to poison ivy, but there were several times where I got patches of it when the oil was transferred from one of my horse’s muzzles to my arm and even cheek once. They’ll entirely strip the big roots of fuzz, and kill the largest/oldest poison ivy plants that way. They don’t touch the leaves any to speak of, so they won’t get rid of all the ivy unfortunately. They’ll also kill any very young willow – they like to eat all the tiny new leaves and even several inches of the young tender new branch tips. They’ll also nibble a little at maple tree bark although usually not enough to harm mature trees (no idea if they’d kill very young ones like they do willows). I guess maple syrup tastes good to them too!
    Even more bizarre, they will absolutely snarf up every single black locust tree seed pod that falls to the ground. When it was that time of year and seed pods were dropping, the second I let them out each day, mine would charge out and race each other down to the small locust grove in the pasture and promptly gobble up every single pod they could find.
    Not so surprising, if you happen to have any apple or peach trees within their reach, you’re not likely to get any ripe fruit yourself – the horses will get every one the minute it’s close to ripe, and even knock the tree trunk or branches to get fruit to fall that is out of their reach (and they will rear up as high as they can to get the fruit). If the horse isn’t used to being in a pasture that has an apple tree(s), you’ll likely wind up with a bit of tummy ache/colic the first year from them eating apples while they’re still green (e.g., before they’re quite ripe enough).
    So who knows what ancient equine ancestors actually survived on.

  93. I’d like to know how these researchers manage to explain that global warming caused mammals to get smaller, while dinosaurs were getting larger and larger.

  94. re post by: Mike McMillan says: February 23, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Even the least of us will be able to “ride tall in the saddle,” as they used to say about John Wayne.

    Yes, we’ll all ride tall in the saddle while keeping our feet planted firmly on the ground. 😉

  95. re post by: Tom Harley says: February 23, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Of course during the Roman warm period, Hannibal’s elephants were the size of horses, and the Roman horses the size of today’s donkeys (sarc)

    And those little Roman donkey sized horses were incredibly strong like ants! They were able to gallop around with approx. 400 Lbs of rider in armor. So heavy that cranes had to be used to hoist the rider up into or back out of the saddle no less.

  96. re post by: Bill Parsons says: February 24, 2012 at 10:00 am

    …One part of the ever-popular “Hothouse Earth” article from National Geo fleshes out the Gingerich research (same area) with pictures. It says that the “most popular” explanation of the sudden carbon spike is still the oldest one: heat drove the releases:
    “Many sources have been suggested for the PETM carbon spike, and given the amount of carbon, it likely came from more than one. At the end of the Paleocene, Europe and Greenland were…”

    Bill, do you have a link to the source for your quote? I’d like to read & bookmark it…

  97. Rational Db8 (used to post as Rational Debate) says:
    February 25, 2012 at 3:01 pm
    Bill, do you have a link to the source for your quote? I’d like to read & bookmark it…

    Try this:
    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/hothouse-earth/kunzig-text
    Of course, National Geographic links this to anthopogenic global warming – (e.g.) it happened (at least) once before, so it can happen again… and this time, we humans will cause it to happen. Perhaps you’ll agree with me that the paragraph in question nevertheless gets the order right: the heat of the warming world releases methane-bearing compounds that will (so they say) induce the hothouse.

  98. E.M.Smith says:
    February 25, 2012 at 4:29 am
    About a third of mammal species responded with significant reduction in size during the PETM, some by as much as one-half.
    What do you want to bet that another third got LARGER and the last third stay about the same?

    Sure. The same thing happened in the 18th Century, and Jonathan Swift documented the effect: The Lilliputians were small enough to stand on the palm of his hand; the Brobningnagians could wade through the oceans to nearby islands. And the horses learned to talk…
    Natural selection and mutation work in amazing ways.

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