Paleoecology of Beringia

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The remains of Late Pleistocene mammals that had been discovered on the Aleutians and islands in the Bering Sea at the close of the nineteenth century indicated that a past land connection might lie beneath the shallow waters between Alaska and Chukotka. The underlying mechanism was first thought to be tectonics, but by changes in the icemass balance, leading to global sea-level fluctuations, were viewed as the cause of the Bering Land Bridge. Beringia was later regarded as extending from the Verkhoyansk Mountains in the west to the Mackenzie River in the east.

During the Pleistocene epoch, global cooling led periodically to the expansion of glaciers and lowering of sea levels. This created land connections in various regions around the globe. During the last glacial period , enough of the earth's water became frozen in the great ice sheets covering North America and Europe to cause a drop in sea levels.

For thousands of years the sea floors of many interglacial shallow seas were exposed, including those of the Bering Strait , the Chukchi Sea to the north, and the Bering Sea to the south. Other land bridges around the world have emerged and disappeared in the same way.

During the Ice Age a vast, cold and dry Mammoth steppe stretched from the arctic islands southwards to China, and from Spain eastwards across Eurasia and over the Bering land bridge into Alaska and the Yukon where it was blocked by the Wisconsin glaciation. The land bridge existed because sea-levels were lower because more of the planet's water than today was locked up in glaciers.


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Therefore, the flora and fauna of Beringia were more related to those of Eurasia rather than North America. Beringia received more moisture and intermittent maritime cloud cover from the north Pacific Ocean than the rest of the Mammoth steppe, including the dry environments on either side of it.

This moisture supported a shrub-tundra habitat that provided an ecological refugium for plants and animals. In the Late Pleistocene, Beringia was a mosaic of biological communities. However, from the west the woolly rhino went no further east than the Anadyr River , and from the east North American camels , the American kiang -like equids, the short-faced bear, bonnet-headed muskoxen , and American badger did not travel west. At the beginning of the Holocene, some mesic habitat -adapted species left the refugium and spread westward into what had become tundra-vegetated northern Asia and eastward into northern North America.

The latest emergence of the land bridge was c. However, from c.

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Beringia - Wikipedia

The arid adapted species were reduced to minor habitats or became extinct. Beringia constantly transformed its ecosystem as the changing climate affected the environment, determining which plants and animals were able to survive. The land mass could be a barrier as well as a bridge: during colder periods, glaciers advanced and precipitation levels dropped. During warmer intervals, clouds, rain and snow altered soils and drainage patterns. Fossil remains show that spruce , birch and poplar once grew beyond their northernmost range today, indicating that there were periods when the climate was warmer and wetter.

The environmental conditions were not homogenous in Beringia. Recent stable isotope studies of woolly mammoth bone collagen demonstrate that western Beringia Siberia was colder and drier than eastern Beringia Alaska and Yukon , which was more ecologically diverse. In this tundra, mammoths flourished instead.

The extinct pine species Pinus matthewsii has been described from Pliocene sediments in the Yukon areas of the refugium. The paleo-environment changed across time.


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  • Artemisia [43] [44]. Cyperaceae sedges [43] [44]. Gramineae grasses [43] [44]. Salix willow [43] [44]. The specimen was found in sediment dated 1 million YBP, [45] however the geological attribution of this sediment is questioned. Both discoveries point to an origin of these wolves in eastern Beringia during the Middle Pleistocene. The Bering land bridge is a postulated route of human migration to the Americas from Asia about 20, years ago.

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    This genetic bottleneck finding is an example of the founder effect and does not imply that only 70 individuals crossed into North America at the time; rather, the genetic material of these individuals became amplified in North America following isolation from other Asian populations. Seagoing coastal settlers may also have crossed much earlier, but there is no scientific consensus on this point, and the coastal sites that would offer further information now lie submerged in up to a hundred metres of water offshore.

    Land animals migrated through Beringia as well, introducing to North America species that had evolved in Asia, like mammals such as proboscideans and American lions , which evolved into now-extinct endemic North American species. Meanwhile, equids and camelids that had evolved in North America and later became extinct there migrated into Asia as well at this time. A analysis of mtDNA found evidence that a human population lived in genetic isolation on the exposed Beringian landmass during the Last Glacial Maximum for approximately 5, years.

    Environmental selection on this Beringian Standstilll Population has been suggested for genetic variation in the Fatty Acid Desaturase gene cluster [56] and the ectodysplasin A receptor gene. Biogeographical evidence demonstrates previous connections between North America and Asia. Similar dinosaur fossils occur both in Asia and in North America.

    For instance the dinosaur Saurolophus was found in both Mongolia and western North America.

    Relatives of Troodon , Triceratops , and even Tyrannosaurus rex all came from Asia. Fossil evidence indicates an exchange of primates between North America and Asia around Some, like the ancient saber-toothed cats , have a recurring geographical range: Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America.

    The only way they could reach the New World was by the Bering land bridge.

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    Had this bridge not existed at that time, the fauna of the world would be very different. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the prehistoric land bridge. See also: Mammoth steppe and Asa Gray disjunction. Main articles: Settlement of the Americas and Paleo-Indians. This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

    Paleoecology of Beringia

    Archived from the original on 28 April Retrieved 19 May Hoffecker; Scott A. Elias 15 June Human Ecology of Beringia. I have no energy Columbia University Press. Her genome is the oldest-yet complete genetic profile of a New World human. This new information helps sketch in more details about how, when, and where the ancestors of all Native Americans became a distinct group, and how they may have dispersed into and throughout the New World.

    The encampment was buried under feet of sand and silt, an acidic environment that makes the survival of organic artifacts exceedingly rare. Potter previously excavated the cremated remains of a three-year-old child from a hearth pit in the encampment, and it was beneath this first burial that the six-week-old baby and a second, even younger infant were found. In a pitch black, foot-deep underwater cave, three divers make a stunning 13,year-old discovery: the oldest complete human skeleton ever found in the Americas. The results appeared today in the journal Nature.

    How did they do it? How did they change? We now have examples of two genetic groups of people who were adapting to this very harsh landscape. The genetic analysis points towards a divergence of all ancient Native Americans from a single east Asian source population somewhere between 36, to 25, years ago—well before humans crossed into Beringia, an area that includes the land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska at the end of the last ice age.

    That means that somewhere along the way, either in eastern Asia or in Beringia itself, a group of people became isolated from other east Asians for about 10, years, long enough to become a unique strain of humanity.

    Current evidence allows multiple models for the peopling of the Americas

    But since humans in North America are not reliably documented before 14, years ago, how and where these two groups could have been separated long enough to become genetically distinct is still unclear. The first is that the two groups became isolated while still in east Asia, and that they crossed the land bridge separately—perhaps at different times, or using different routes. A second theory is that a single group moved out of Asia, then split into Beringians and ancient Native Americans once in Beringia.

    The Beringians lingered in the west and interior of Alaska, while the ancestors of modern Native Americans continued on south some time around 15, years ago. John Hoffecker , who studies the paleoecology of Beringia at the University of Colorado-Boulder, says there is still plenty of room for debate about the geographic locations of the ancestral splits.