The British Herpetological Society

The Herpetological Journal is the Society's prestigious quarterly scientific journal. Articles are listed in Biological Abstracts, Current Awareness in Biological Sciences,Current Contents, Science Citation Index, and Zoological Record.

The 2017/18  impact factor of the Herpetological Journal is 1.268

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pdf 06. Reinterpretation of the Climatic Adaptation of Giant Fossil Tortoises in North America


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Authors: Don Moll & Lauren E. Brown

Abstract: Over a half-century ago, C. W. Hibbard proposed a climate theory based on imported living giant tortoises (“Geochelone”) as proxies that suggested the climate adaptations of giant fossil tortoises of the Cenozoic Era (65.5 million years ago to present) were subtropical or tropical across much of North America. This has been a prominent and enduring paleoclimate theory. We show that incorrect assumptions and other problems invalidate this theory. Seven alternative concepts are presented that suggest North American fossil giant tortoises could have evolved necessary adaptations including cold-adaptive morphology,
behavioural thermoregulation, burrowing, use of caves as shelters, tolerance of prolonged cessation of food consumption,
cryoprotection and supercooling (protection from freezing), and gigantothermy (metabolic and structural thermoregulation)
to survive northern winters and in montane areas. This study illustrates the potential danger of using an inappropriate proxy
to predict past climates.

Keywords: Testudinidae; Geochelone; Hesperotestudo; giant tortoises; fossils; climate; morphology; behavioural
thermoregulation; burrowing; caves; feeding cessation; cryoprotection; supercooling; gigantothermy; proxies


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