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The spread of grass-dominated habitats in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Cainozoic: phytolith evidence
Swedish Museum of Natural History, Department of Paleobiology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9586-4017
2007 (English)In: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, ISSN 0031-0182, E-ISSN 1872-616X, Vol. 250, 18-49 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The arrival of hipparionine horses in the eastern Mediterranean region around 11 Ma was traditionally thought to mark the simultaneous westward expansion of savanna vegetation across Eurasia. However, recent paleoecological reconstructions based on tooth wear, carbon isotopes, and functional morphology indicate that grasses played a minor role in Late Miocene ecosystems of the eastern Mediterranean, which were more likely dry woodlands or forests. The scarcity of grass macrofossils and pollen in Miocene floras of Europe and Asia Minor has been used to support this interpretation. Based on the combined evidence, it has therefore been suggested that Late Miocene ungulate faunal change in the eastern Mediterranean signals increased aridity and landscape openness, but not necessarily the development of grass-dominated habitats. To shed newlight on the Miocene evolution of eastern Mediterranean ecosystems, we used phytolith assemblages preserved in direct association with faunas as a proxy for paleovegetation structure (grassland vs. forest).We extracted phytoliths and other biogenic silica fromsediment samples fromwell-known Early to Late Miocene (∼20–7Ma) faunal localities in Greece, Turkey, and Iran. In addition, a Middle Eocene sample from Turkey yielded phytoliths and served as a baseline comparison for vegetation inference. Phytolith analysis showed that the Middle Eocene assemblage consists of abundant grass phytoliths (grass silica short cells) interpreted as deriving from bambusoid grasses, as well as diverse forest indicator phytoliths from dicotyledonous angiosperms and palms, pointing to the presence of a woodland or forest with abundant bamboos. In contrast, the Miocene assemblages are dominated by diverse silica short cells typical of pooid open-habitat grasses. Forest indicator phytoliths are also present, but are rare in the Late Miocene (9–7 Ma) assemblages. Our analysis of the Miocene grass community composition is consistent with evidence from stable carbon isotopes from paleosols and ungulate tooth enamel, showing that C4 grasses were rare in the Mediterranean throughout the Miocene. These data indicate that relatively open habitats had become common in Turkey and surrounding areas by at least the Early Miocene (∼20 Ma), N7 million years before hipparionine horses reached Europe and arid conditions ensued, as judged by faunal data.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2007. Vol. 250, 18-49 p.
National Category
Botany
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:nrm:diva-98DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2007.02.012OAI: oai:DiVA.org:nrm-98DiVA: diva2:692788
Funder
Swedish Research Council
Available from: 2014-02-01 Created: 2014-02-01 Last updated: 2014-05-02Bibliographically approved

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