Existing methods for determining paleoprecipitation are subject to large errors (±350– 400 mm or more using mammalian proxies), or are restricted to wet climate systems due to their strong facies dependence (paleobotanical proxies). Here we describe a new paleoprecipitation tool based on an indexing of ecophysiological groups within herpetological communities. In recent communities these indices show a highly significant correlation to annual precipitation (r2 = 0.88), and yield paleoprecipitation estimates with average errors of ±250–280 mm. The approach was validated by comparison with published paleoprecipitation estimates from other methods. The method expands the application of paleoprecipitation tools to dry climate systems and in this way contributes to the establishment of a more comprehensive paleoprecipitation database. This method is applied to two high-resolution time intervals from the European Neogene: the early middle Miocene (early Langhian) and the early late Miocene (early Tortonian). The results indicate that both periods show significant meridional precipitation gradients in Europe, these being stronger in the early Langhian (threefold decrease toward the south) than in the early Tortonian (twofold decrease toward the south). This pattern indicates a strengthening of climatic belts during the middle Miocene climatic optimum due to Southern Hemisphere cooling and an increased contribution of Arctic low-pressure cells to the precipitation from the late Miocene onward due to Northern Hemisphere cooling.

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