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Ancient Ancestor of Rabbits May Link Europe and Asia

First Posted: Jan 27, 2016 08:57 AM EST

The ancestor of rabbits may actually connect Europe and Asia. Scientists have discovered that the species Amphilagus tomidai, which lived in present-day Siberia during the Miocene, belonged to a family which was thought to only exist in Europe.

"Amphilagus is a genus that was traditionally thought to only exist in Europe, but remains of this mammal were recently located in Asia," said Chiara Angelone, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The discovery of this mammal on the continent of Asia indicates that there were some paleogreographic and environmental conditions that favored the expansion of the species towards the east."

The Miocene began about 23 million years ago and ended 5.3 million years ago. This period gave rise to the barrier-free linking of Europe and Asia, which would have allowed for the spread of this animal.

Aphilagus is an ancestor of the present-day rabbit. During its time, the Parathethys Sea, which was located to the south of Europe and spanned from the norther Alps to the Aral Sea in western Asia, had disappeared. A lack of mountains in this location meant that there was no barrier to hinder the animal's expansion.

"These ancient animals help us to better understand the climatic and paleogeographic conditions of that period in time," said Angelone. "Some discoveries add new insight into what we already know. Others, such as this one, uncover remarkable stories."

The findings reveal a bit more about this animal and about the shifting of landmasses and geologic features at the time when it was alive.

The findings are published in the journal Historical Biology.

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