The first step for understanding the natural history of Europe is to acknowledge how the continent itself has changed over the past 100 million years. From a fragmented archipelago that necessitated treacherous journeys across open water – a severe limiting factor for which species got to colonise it – over time the land and seas shifted. Flannery walks us through a series of dramatic evolutions, migrations and extinctions, during which changing climactic conditions and coastlines created a world more in flux during the pre-human era than we might imagine.
Europe was once home to incredible species you’ve likely never heard of, such as the terrifying entelodonts (huge, flesh-eating ‘pigs’) and the gorilla-horse hybrid known as the Anisodon. Europe’s glacial periods, which took place during its relatively recent history, saw ice repeatedly scrape the continent of life, creating a vacuum for new species to move in. Those species that weren’t wiped out by early hominids were often domesticated, until the fauna of Europe resembled that of today.
Finally, Flannery introduces us to the modern Europe of invasive animals and the rewilding of once-native species. While Europe is mildly consistent in structure, moving chronologically in time, within each chapter Flannery leaps through geography, chronology and academic disciplines. If you can concentrate and keep up with his enthusiasm, there is a wealth of knowledge to be obtained.
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