Tech UPTechnologyBalkanatolia, the lost continent that existed 40 million years...

Balkanatolia, the lost continent that existed 40 million years ago

Approximately 40 million years ago, there was an ancient continent located between Europe and Asia, called Balkanatolia, which was home to a wide variety of peculiar and unique species; different from those found on neighboring land masses. This is the conclusion reached by a team of French, American and Turkish paleontologists and geologists led by researchers from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), who have discovered the existence of this forgotten continent that would have been in what is today day covers present-day Balkans and Anatolia.


A previously unknown biogeographical province

The hypothesis of this lost continent was raised decades ago but now, this work published in the journal Earth Science Reviews, suggests that Balkanatolia really did exist. In it, the drop in sea level, favored by a glaciation, allowed Asian mammals to enter this continent and replace local wildlife, before moving to Western Europe and triggering a sudden extinction event: the extinction event Eocene-Oligocene, the transition between the end of the Eocene and the beginning of the Oligocene; that is, this continent, full of exotic fauna, would have “paved the way” for mammals of Asian origin to colonize southern Europe.

In the Eocene, western Europe and eastern Asia formed two distinct landmasses with very different mammalian faunas. We knew that, about 34 million years ago, Western Europe was colonized by Asian species, causing a major renewal of the vertebrate fauna and the extinction of its endemic mammals, a sudden event called ‘ Grande Coupure ‘. However, fossils found in the Balkans point to the presence of Asian mammals in southern Europe long before the Grande Coupure. How to explain this paradox?


Outlining the history of this third Eurasian continent

The explanation is that the region would have formed a single landmass in the past, separated from neighboring continents ( the continent already existed 50 million years ago ) and a glaciation would have connected it to Western Europe via a land bridge going down sea level once again. Thus, Asian mammals would have continued their journey westward, thereby causing the disappearance of many European species.


“It seems likely that a great glaciation 34 million years ago, which led to the formation of the Antarctic ice sheet and lower sea levels, connected Balkanatolia with Western Europe, giving rise to the ‘Grande Coupure,'” the experts comment. .

Between 40 and 34 million years ago

The team reconstructed the paleogeographic changes that occurred in the region , which has a “complex history of episodic drowning and resurgence” and what they found suggests that Balkanatolia served as a springboard for animals to move from Asia to Western Europe, like a land bridge. , which allowed Asian mammals (including rodents and four-legged mammals -also known as ungulates-), to invade the area and cause several “dramatic paleogeographic changes”.

“This colonization event was facilitated by a drop in global eustatic sea level and a tectonic-driven sea retreat in eastern Anatolia and the Minor Caucasus during the late middle Eocene ,” the study authors write.

Is it firm?

The researchers note in their paper that “past connectivity between the Balkanatolian archipelago and the existence of this southern dispersal route remains debated” , and the reconstructed history so far “is only based on mammalian fossils and a clear picture remains to be drawn”. more complete picture of the past biodiversity of the Balkans”.

Referencia: Alexis Licht, Grégoire Métais, Pauline Coster, Deniz İbilioğlu, Faruk Ocakoğlu, Jan Westerweel, Megan Mueller, Clay Campbell, Spencer Mattingly, Melissa C. Wood, K. Christopher Beard. Balkanatolia: The insular mammalian biogeographic province that partly paved the way to the Grande Coupure. Earth-Science Reviews, 2022; 226: 103929 DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2022.103929

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