Scientists Use Horse Teeth to Trace History of Climate Change

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Image courtesy of B.A. Rucker DVM from his Digital Equus DVD on equine jaw anatomy, development and dentistry.

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The University of Florida has just released a great story about equine-specialist paleontologist Bruce MacFadden, curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

MacFadden and colleagues have constructed a chronology of climate change in eons past by analyzing the biochemical content of horse teeth.

The study was published in yesterday's edition of the esteemed weekly scientific journal, Nature.

Fear not, the University of Florida has simplified the scientific paper for us, and created a reader-friendly interpretation of why horses are just as good an indicator of climate change as the marine species normally used.

"Fossil mammals are archives of ancient information," MacFadden said. "Their teeth are like little time capsules that allow us to analyze chemicals captured millions of years ago within the animals' skeletons."

Researchers analyzed oxygen and carbon isotopes in the preserved teeth and bones of primitive fossil horses and a primitive cloven-hoofed mammal called an oreodont.

Isotopes are atoms of naturally-occurring elements, characterized by varying numbers of neutrons but constant numbers of protons. Oxygen isotopes act as thermometers, telling scientists at what temperature they were formed; and carbon isotopes act as barometers, revealing relative humidity.

Click here to go to the story on the University of Florida's web site.