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Great Auks on the Iberian Peninsula

December 17, 2012
Areas in which Pinguinus impennis has been found on mainlaind Iberian Peninsula

Areas in which Pinguinus impennis has been found on mainland Iberian Peninsula. Black triangles are Holocene subfossils, round circles Pleistocene ones, and diamonds “uncertain chronology”.

It is usually thought that Pinguinus impennis was restricted to insular environments in the North Atlantic, with southern reccords being vagrants from winter feeding migrations.

However, while this might be true for at least some of the most southern Florida fossils, the Iberian Peninsula shows that the Great Auk was capable of living in warmer environments year-round. More so, with the exception of undeterminate remains in Porto Santo, nearly all iberian Pinguinus remains are from the mainland, some even showing signs of predation by Neanderthals.

Much like the modern African Penguin, the Great Auk seems to have been one of those flightless birds capable of surviving in areas with terrestrial predators, It’s safe to say that, like all shore-breeding marine tetrapods, it certainly was picky about colony establishments, preffering isolated beaches and isles, but it certainly shows that it was nowhere near the helpless island endemic it is often depicted as.

Most spectacularly, Great Auks seem to have remained in Iberia as recently as the Roman Empire’s invasion. It co-existed with hominids for several hundreds of thousands of years, even being depicted in cave art – it’s exact cultural/mythological relevance being unfortunately unknown -, so it’s iconic highly restricted insular breeding sites are most likely a recent development, coinciding with the rampant spread of civilisation in Europe.

Refs

http://www.igespar.pt/media/uploads/revistaportuguesadearqueologia/11.2/17_18/18_p.361-370.pdf

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