The contribution of Quaternary vertebrates to palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatological reconstructions in Sicily
Laura Bonfiglio, Antonella C. Marra, Federico Masini, 2000. "The contribution of Quaternary vertebrates to palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatological reconstructions in Sicily", Climates: Past and Present, Malcolm B. Hart
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In Sicily few studies have been devoted to the climatic–environmental changes of the Pleistocene and Holocene period. Most of the studies on Quaternary vertebrates in Sicily have been focused on the evolutionary–taxonomic aspects of the fauna. Sicily experienced at least four vertebrate dispersal events during Quaternary time, which are of different provenence (African and/or European) and have been controlled by filtering barriers of different intensities. The marked endemism and the extremely low diversity of the fossil assemblages of early and early–mid-Pleistocene time do not allow detailed interpretations. By way at contrast, younger assemblages are more diverse and, although they display some endemic characters, are similar to those of southern peninsular Italy. The late mid-Pleistocene and early Late Pleistocene assemblages (Elephas mnaidriensis faunal complex) are characterized by the occurrence of a red deer (Cervus elaphus siciliae), a dwarf fallow deer-like endemic megalocerine (Megaceroides carburangelensis), auroch (Bos primigenius siciliae), bison (Bison priscus sieiliae), elephant (Elephas mnaidriensis), hippopotamus (Hippopotamus pentlandi), boar (Sus scrofa), brown bear (Ursus cf. arctos) and three large social carnivores (Panthera leo, Crocuta erocuta and Canis lupus). Most of these taxa, except for the megalocerine, are characterized by slightly reduced body size compared with the same taxa from mainland Europe. These assemblages are indicative of a climate with temperate, Mediterranean affinity and of landscapes in which forested areas were associated with more open environments. The relatively low abundance of the red deer and the dominance of the megalocerine in several assemblages suggests that a Mediterranean-type forest locally dominated some of the climatic phases. The assemblages of the youngest Late Pleistocene period on Sicily are characterized by a dramatic drop in diversity, with the disappearance of elephant, hippopotamus, bison, the endemic megalocerine, and the largest predators. This would indicate an environmental crisis probably linked to the drier climatic oscillations of late Pleniglacial time, as is suggested also by the spread of the ground vole, which is the dominant small mammal in several assemblages. The Late Glacial period is characterized by the spread of equids (horse and wild ass), which are indicators of open landscapes and of xerophytic steppe-like cover. The beginning of the Holocene period is characterized by the expansion of forested areas and by a more humid climate, as suggested by the abundance of red deer, and by the dispersal of the common dormouse (Glis glis) and water vole (Arvicola sp.).
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The climate of the early Earth was probably very warm and has, in general, reduced since the Archean. However, it now seems that the world is about 0.6°C warmer than it was 100 years ago and estimates of the rate of global warming over the next century range from 0.16°C to 0.35°C per decade. Concurrently, global sea-level is predicted to rise from 2.4 to 10 cm per decade. These rates of change are much faster than those normally associated with the geological record, causing geologists and palaeontologists to reassess their data and their forecasts on rates of future change.
With the current interest in global climatic change and, more specifically, with global warming, it is clear that palaeontologists have valuable information to provide on the impacts of past climatic change. This volume contains papers from an international array of such geologists and palaeontologists, showing how studies of micro- and macrofossils, plant and vertebrate fossils from a range of geological ages have contributed to our understanding of how climate affects both local and more widespread areas. The contributions are arranged in geological order, ranging from the Permo-Carboniferous to the post-glacial recovery of the last 18,000 years, with an emphasis on climate change during the last two million years, particularly in NW Europe.
Climates: Past and Present will be of interest to palaeontologists, geologists and palaeoclimatologists who specialize in climatic reconstructions and any professionals enagaged in research into the geological aspects of climate change.