Smilodon and the climate skeptic

I had been meaning to write about La Brea Tar Pits, having spent a morning with the mammoths last month, paying homage to the bones of the Pleistocene megafauna, the relics of extinction.


Mammoth columbi  (my photo)

Researchers from the museum have published two papers on the evolution of two of the predators found at La Brea, Smilodon fatalis the sabre-toothed-cat, and Canis dirus the dire wolf, in response to climate change in the late Pleistocene. The papers are based on the cranial morphology of the two species, which, especially the dire wolf, are present in large numbers in the tar pits. For Smilodon, they find a large morphotype during warmer periods of the late Pleistocene and a small morphotype in the colder periods, which they suggest may relate to the choice of prey species.


Smilodon fatalis (my photo)

Anthony Watts has written an incisive and intelligent commentary about the press release announcing these two papers in a post “The La Brea Tars Pits gets themselves in a sticky wicket over climate change and adaptation“.

One of the most shrill arguments from alarmists is the idea that climate change will wipe out species because they can’t adapt. The claims run from polar bears to tortoises, to plants and coral. Yes, if we listen to these arguments, Nature so poorly equipped it’s creatures that they can’t adapt to a slightly warmer future.

Except when the last ice age ended, and it got warmer, and the saber-toothed cats and wolves got bigger because the prey got bigger…instead of disappearing due to “climate change”.

OK, so that wasn’t particularly incisive or intelligent. Watts  is comparing the evolutionary response of large, free-roaming populations of carnivores over millennia, to what might be expected for the remnant populations of wildlife, constrained by agriculture and urbanisation to small and fragmented areas, over a century.

About richard telford

Ecologist with interests in quantitative methods and palaeoenvironments
This entry was posted in Fake climate sceptics, Peer reviewed literature, Silliness, WUWT and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Smilodon and the climate skeptic

  1. You really had me going there for a moment 🙂

  2. Lars Karlsson says:

    That’s a very important point: the speed of change is a big part of problem. If it takes 5000 years, there is time to adapt. If it takes 200 years, there is less so.

    • Many of the climate changes in the late Pleistocene were rapid. However, from the data presented in the paper, we cannot tell how much of the morphological variation relates to the evolution acting on a single population, and how much to migration of different populations with different morphologies. The former process is needed to adapt to climate change in the 21st century, the latter process is much easier.

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