A noted paleontologist traces Europe’s land, flora, and fauna over 100 million years.
Australian explorer and conservationist Flannery (Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis, 2015, etc.), chief councilor of the Australian Climate Council, offers a fascinating geological and natural history of Europe, from its origins as a tropical arc of islands to the present, as the world faces the challenges of rapidly rising temperatures. European biodiversity, writes the author, has been “destroyed and re-made three times over as celestial and tectonic forces shaped the land.” He depicts in colorful detail the variety of wildlife inhabiting the islands along with dinosaurs, including primitive mammals, and strange creatures, such as pythonlike snakes, terrestrial crocodiles with serrated teeth, and “large side-necked turtles.” Today, the midwife toad—a species in which the male gathers up and protects the eggs—represents Europe’s oldest vertebrate family, a survivor of 100 million years of geological catastrophe, including the devastating asteroid crash that precipitated a nuclear winter and, some scientists argue, caused the extinction of dinosaurs. Besides revealing many examples of bizarre animal life—the blind salamander that spends its entire life in caves, for example, and the perissodactyl, an animal with a horselike head and gorillalike body and limbs with huge claws—Flannery traces the migration of fauna between Africa and Europe. About 12 million years ago, he asserts, “the faunas of Kenya and Germany became almost indistinguishable.” Among the fauna were the earliest hominids, which appeared in Europe at least 1 million years earlier than in Africa, although genetic analysis confirms that the genus Homo did evolve in Africa, later migrating to Europe. Around 38,000 years ago, Europe became colonized by a “hybrid human-Neanderthal population.” Today, Flannery concedes that a healthy population of carnivores, larger herbivores, and scavengers is making Europe “a wild and environmentally exciting place,” but he cautions that efforts at “rewilding” need to be carried out with responsible scientific oversight and that indisputable global warming has real impact.
An illuminating natural history and warning for the future.