The middle Miocene is a crucial period for the evolution of apes, and it corresponds to their appearance in Europe. The dispersion of apes was made possible by tectonic changes and the expansion of their habitat, (sub-) tropical forest, in Europe. The context in which the middle Miocene climatic optimum occurred still lacks constraints in terms of atmospheric pCO2 and ice-sheet volume and extent. Using a coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation model (GCM) and dynamic vegetation model, we investigated the sensitivity of Miocene climate and vegetation to pCO2 levels and Antarctic ice-sheet configurations. Our results indicate that higher than present pCO2 is necessary to simulate subtropical forest in Western and Central Europe during the middle Miocene, but that a threshold at high pCO2 makes subtropical forest partly collapse. Moreover, removing ice over Antarctica modifies oceanic circulation and induces warmer and slightly wetter conditions in Europe, which are consistent with the expansion of subtropical forest. These results suggest that a small East Antarctic Ice Sheet (25% of present-day ice volume) together with higher than present pCO2 values are in better agreement with available European middle Miocene data.

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