Palaeoclimatological and palaeoenvironmental reconstructions based on stable isotope analysis of mammalian bone require an understanding of the behavior and physiology of the organism and mandate taxon-specific considerations. This study assesses the utility of using bone tissue of leporids (cottontail rabbits, Sylvilagus sp., and hares, Lepus sp.) as paleoenvironmental proxies. Leporids are globally widespread, and commonly found in many archaeological middens in North America, with material available in many museum collections. We isolated and analyzed bone collagen and carbonate from 135 modern specimens from Mexico and southern United States for light element stable isotope values of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. Stable isotope values were assessed with local ecoregion types for each specimen location and interpolated precipitation, humidity, and temperature variables. Reflecting the water acquisition strategies of leporids, our results show significant negative correlations of bone δ18O values with mean annual precipitation and with relative humidity. Contrary to expectations, neither δ13C nor δ15N values are strong predictors of moisture variables, which may be due to micro-scale topographic and environmental variation and selective feeding strategies. Significant positive correlations are observed for δ13C and δ15N values with temperature variables. Our study increases our ability to model past environmental landscapes by considering how behavior, ecology, and environment interact to result in measured stable isotope values in leporid bones.
"Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology" – Elsevier
Published: May 15, 2018
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