Paleoenvironmental conditions in the Spanish Miocene-Pliocene boundary: Isotopic analyses of Hipparion dental enamel

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Expansion of C4 grasses during Late Miocene and Early Pliocene constitutes one of the most remarkable biotic events of the Cenozoic era. The Teruel-Alfambra region (northeastern Spain) contains one of the most complete Miocene-Pliocene sequences of mammalian fossil sites in the world. In this study, stable isotope (δ 13C and δ 18O) analyses have been performed on the tooth enamel from the equid Hipparion from 19 localities spanning a time interval from approximately 10.9 to 2.7 Ma. This time range starts with the first appearance of this genus in Spain and ends at its extinction. An increase in δ 13C at about 4.2 Ma has been observed, indicative of a shift toward a more open habitat. This shift may be related to a large scale vegetation change which occurred across the Miocene-Pliocene boundary when C4 grasses expanded. This expansion might in turn be linked to global tectonic events such as the uplift of the Himalaya and/or the closure of the Panama Isthmus. However, other more regional factors may have ultimately enhanced the trend toward more open habitats in the Western Mediterranean Basin. The Messinian Salinity Crisis was a major environmental event that may have been responsible for the isotopic changes seen in the equid Hipparion from the Iberian Peninsula along with an increase in the aridity detected ~4.6 Ma ago in the Sahara. Even though the exact factor triggering the isotopic change observed in the Hipparion enamel remains mostly unknown, this study demonstrates that the global environmental changes detected across the Miocene-Pliocene boundary are also recorded in the realm of the Iberian Peninsula.
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