Animal Migration

Millions of Years of Animal Migration Hold Clues to the Mystery of ‘Lost Continent'

A low-lying landmass, which scientists have dubbed Balkanatolia, enabled mammals from Asia to cross into Europe

Alexis Licht & Grégoire Métais

A "lost" continent that once connected Asia to southern Europe may have formed an ancient passageway that helped animals migrate west, leading to a sudden and widespread extinction event around 34 million years ago, according to new research.

In a study published in the March 2022 edition of the journal Earth-Science Reviews, scientists described a forgotten continent that was once sandwiched between Europe, Asia and Africa. This low-lying landmass, which they dubbed Balkanatolia, enabled mammals from Asia to cross into Europe, triggering the extinction of native European fauna in an event known as the Grande Coupure, which fundamentally altered the region's biodiversity.

The research helps fill in a long-standing mystery of how distinctly Asian mammals — ranging from ancient relatives of the rhinoceros to rodents and hoofed animals that were distant ancestors of modern-day horses — wound up colonizing another continent.

"People have basically known for decades that Asian mammals invaded Europe somehow," said K. Christopher Beard, a paleontologist and distinguished professor at the University of Kansas and one of the study's co-authors. "What was unknown was: How did they do it? What route did they take?"

Beard and his colleagues used fossils found in Turkey and elsewhere on the Balkan Peninsula, which encompasses what remains of the lost continent, to trace the movements of ancient animals across the region.

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