Giant German hippopotamuses wallowing on the banks of the Elbe are not a common sight. Yet 1.8 million years ago hippos were a prominent part of European wildlife, when mega-fauna such as woolly mammoths and giant cave bears bestrode the continent. Now palaeontologists writing in Boreas, believe that the changing climate during the Pleistocene Era may have forced Europe's hippos to shrink to pygmy sizes before driving them to warmer climes.
"Species of hippo ranged across pre-historic Europe, including the giant Hippopotamus antiquus a huge animal which often weighed up to a tonne more than today's African hippos," said lead author Dr Paul Mazza from the University of Florence. "While these giants ranged across Spain, Italy and Germany, ancestors of the modern Hippo, Hippopotamus amphibius, reached as far north as the British Isles."
Hippos were a constant feature of European wildlife for 1.4 million years, during the climatically turbulent time of the Pleistocene era, which witnessed 17 glacial events. The experience of such environmental changes would not have been without cost, and Dr Mazza and co-author Dr Adele Bertini, also from Florence, investigated the impact this changing climate may have incurred.
The research focused on fossils from across Europe, ranging from the German town of Untermafeld in Thuringia, to Castel di Guido, North of Rome, and Collecurti and Colle Lepre in Italy's Central Eastern Marche province. The fossils were compared to a database of measurements taken from modern African and fossil European hippos.
"The German fossil from Untermafeld is the largest hippo ever found in Europe, estimated to weigh up to 3.5 tonnes," said Mazza. "The Collecurti specimen was also large, but interestingly even though it was close in both time and distance to the Colle Lepre specimen the latter specimen was 25% smaller. A final specimen, an old female from Ortona in central Italy, was smaller again. It was 17
|Contact: Ben Norman|