Triple oxygen isotope (Δ'17O) analysis has recently be shown to be a powerful tool for identifying metabolic oxygen signatures in mammalian tooth enamel (Pack et al., 2013; Feng et al., 2022). Atmospheric O2 is consumed by mammals for metabolic oxidation. The low triple oxygen isotope (Δ'17O) composition of air O2 serves as a natural tracer for identifying metabolic oxygen in body water. Bioapatite precipitates in isotopic equilibrium with its parental body water and consequently records information on the air O2. The Δ'17O of atmospheric O2 is directly linked to pCO2 and gross primary production, hence fossil teeth can be used for paleo- pCO2 reconstructions.
To provide a modern baseline for this approach, we measured 128 individual mammal teeth for their bioapatite Δ'17O by automatic BrF5 laser fluorination. The sample set includes diverse body size with a body mass range from 2 g to 6000 kg and physiology from different habitats. Taxon-specific oxygen mass balance models are developed for resolving principal dependencies and relationships.
The mass balance modelled data for all species agree within uncertainty with the measured data. The results show that Δ'17O not only correlates with body mass, but also with initial oxygen anomalies of inhaled air O2, which allows for pCO2 reconstruction on terrestrial mammalian tooth enamel. This documents the potential of tooth enamel Δ'17O analysis for metabolic rates of extinct vertebrates and paleoclimate reconstructions, especially for small mammals (Mb < 1 kg).
Pack et al. (2013) GCA, 102, 306–317.
Feng et al. (2022) GCA, 328, 85-102.