Beringia

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"Bering land bridge" redirects here. For the proposed series of artificial bridges across the Bering Strait, see Bering Strait crossing.
This article is about the prehistoric land bridge. For the battle of World War I in Beringia, Darfur, see Anglo-Egyptian Darfur Expedition § Battle of Beringia.
Shrinking of the Bering land bridge
Beringia area coverage

Beringia is defined today as the land and maritime area bounded on the west by the Lena River in Russia; on the east by the Mackenzie River in Canada; on the north by 72 degrees north latitude in the Chukchi Sea; and on the south by the tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula.[1] It includes the Chukchi Sea, the Bering Sea, the Bering Strait, the Chukchi and Kamchatka Peninsulas in Russia as well as Alaska in the United States. The area includes land lying on the North American Plate and Siberian land east of the Chersky Range. Historically, it formed a land bridge that was up to 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) wide at its greatest extent and which covered an area as large as British Columbia and Alberta together[2] (1,600,000 square kilometres (620,000 sq mi)). This land bridge connected Asia and North America at various times during the Quaternary glaciation.

The term Beringia was coined by the Swedish botanist Eric Hultén in 1937.[3] During the ice ages, Beringia, like most of Siberia and all of North and Northeast China, was not glaciated because snowfall was very light.[4] It was a grassland steppe, including the land bridge, that stretched for hundreds of kilometres into the continents on either side.

It is believed that a small human population of at most a few thousand arrived in Beringia from eastern Siberia during the Last Glacial Maximum before expanding into the settlement of the Americas sometime after 16,500 years ago during the Late Glacial Maximum as the American glaciers blocking the way southward melted,[5][6][7][8][9] but before the bridge was covered by the sea about 11,000 years Before Present.[10]

Before European colonization, Beringia was inhabited by the Yupik peoples on both sides of the straits. This culture remains in the region today along with others. In 2012, the governments of Russia and the United States announced a plan to formally establish "a transboundary area of shared Beringian heritage". Among other things this agreement would establish close ties between the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and the Cape Krusenstern National Monument in the United States and the planned Beringia National Park in Russia.[11]

Geography[edit]

Bering land bridge – Wisconsin glaciation
Bering land bridge region – deglaciation period
Bering land bridge region – present day

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. Around 14,000 years ago, mainland Australia was linked to both New Guinea and Tasmania, the British Isles became an extension of continental Europe via the dry beds of the English Channel and North Sea, and the dry basin of the South China Sea linked Sumatra, Java and Borneo to Indochina.

The rise and fall of global sea levels in several periods of the Pleistocene era submerged and exposed the bridging land mass between Asia and North America. The Beringian land bridge is believed to have been exposed both during the glacial period that occurred before 35,000 BP and during the more recent period 22,000–17,000 years BP. The strait reopened about 15,500 BP[12] and by about 11,000 years BP[10] the coastlines were close to their present configurations. Post-glacial rebound has continued to raise some sections of coast.

The ice-free heartland of Beringia served as a giant ecological refugium during maximal glaciation for those tundra plants that could survive its windswept Arctic desert conditions.[13] But 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 were more ecologically diverse.[14] Mastodons, which depended on shrubs for food, were uncommon in the open dry tundra landscape characteristic of Beringia during the colder periods. 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.[15]

Human habitation[edit]

Genetic settlement of Beringia

The Bering land bridge is a postulated route of human migration to the Americas from Asia about 20,000 years ago.[16] An open corridor through the ice-covered North American Arctic was too barren to support human migrations before around 12,600 years ago.[17][18] A study has indicated that of the people who migrated across this land bridge at that time, only 70 left their genetic imprint on modern descendants, which is known as a founder effect (this is easily misread as implying that only 70 people crossed to North America).[19]

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: mammals such as proboscideans and American lions, which evolved into now-extinct endemic North American species; and allowing equids and camelids that had evolved in North America (and later became extinct there) to migrate to Asia.

A study published in 2007 suggests that the Bering land bridge migration occurred 12,000 years ago, that every human who migrated across the land bridge came from Eastern Siberia, and that every indigenous person directly descends from that same group of Eastern Siberian migrants. The authors note that a "[u]nique genetic variant widespread in natives across both continents suggests that the first humans in the Americas came in a single migration or multiple waves from a single source, not in waves of migrations from different sources".[5]

Previous connections[edit]

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.

Fossils in China demonstrate a migration of Asian mammals into North America around 55 million years ago. By 20 million years ago, evidence in North America shows a further interchange of mammalian species. 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. Had this bridge not existed at that time, the fauna of the world would be very different.

Researchers have started to use molecular phylogenetics to trace the history of faunal exchange and diversification, through the genetic history of parasites and pathogens of North American ungulates. An international Beringian Coevolution Project is collaborating to provide material to assess the pattern and timing of faunal exchange and the potential impact of past climatic events on differentiation.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Shared Beringian Heritage Program. "What is Beringia". National Park Service, US Department of the Interior. 
  2. ^ Dr Barbara Winter (2005). "A Journey to a New Land". www.sfu.museum. virtualmuseum.ca. Retrieved 19 May 2015. 
  3. ^ John F. Hoffecker; Scott A. Elias (15 June 2007). Human Ecology of Beringia. Columbia University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-231-13060-8. Retrieved 2016-04-10. 
  4. ^ Karel Hendrik Voous (1973). Proceedings of the 15th International Ornithological Congress, The Hague, The Netherlands 30 August-5 September 1970. Brill Archive. p. 33. ISBN 978-90-04-03551-5. Retrieved 2016-04-10. 
  5. ^ a b Wang, Sijia; Lewis, C. M. Jr.; Jakobsson, M.; Ramachandran, S.; Ray, N.; et al. (2007). "Genetic Variation and Population Structure in Native Americans". PLoS Genetics. 3 (11): e185. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030185. PMC 2082466free to read. PMID 18039031. 
  6. ^ Goebel, Ted; Waters, Michael R.; O'Rourke, Dennis H. (2008). "The Late Pleistocene Dispersal of Modern Humans in the Americas". Science. 319 (5869): 1497–1502. Bibcode:2008Sci...319.1497G. doi:10.1126/science.1153569. PMID 18339930. 
  7. ^ Fagundes, Nelson J. R.; et al. (2008). "Mitochondrial Population Genomics Supports a Single Pre-Clovis Origin with a Coastal Route for the Peopling of the Americas". American Journal of Human Genetics. 82 (3): 583–592. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2007.11.013. PMC 2427228free to read. PMID 18313026. 
  8. ^ Tamm, Erika; et al. (2007). Carter, Dee, ed. "Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders". PLoS ONE. 2 (9): e829. Bibcode:2007PLoSO...2..829T. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000829. PMC 1952074free to read. PMID 17786201. 
  9. ^ Achilli, A.; et al. (2008). MacAulay, Vincent, ed. "The Phylogeny of the Four Pan-American MtDNA Haplogroups: Implications for Evolutionary and Disease Studies". PLoS ONE. 3 (3): e1764. Bibcode:2008PLoSO...3.1764A. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001764. PMC 2258150free to read. PMID 18335039. 
  10. ^ a b Elias, Scott A.; Short, Susan K.; Nelson, C. Hans; Birks, Hilary H. (1996). "Life and times of the Bering land bridge". Nature. 382 (6586): 60. doi:10.1038/382060a0. 
  11. ^ Llanos, Miguel (21 September 2012). "Ancient land of 'Beringia' gets protection from US, Russia". NBC News. 
  12. ^ Pielou, E. C. (2008). After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-66809-3. Retrieved 2016-04-10. , p. 19 and note
  13. ^ D.M. Hopkins, et al., Paleoecology of Beringia (New York: Academic Press) 1982.
  14. ^ Szpak, Paul; et al. (2010). "Regional differences in bone collagen δ13C and δ15N of Pleistocene mammoths: Implications for paleoecology of the mammoth steppe". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 286 (1–2): 88–96. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2009.12.009. 
  15. ^ McKown, A.D.; Stockey, R.A.; Schweger, C.E. (2002). "A New Species of Pinus Subgenus Pinus Subsection Contortae From Pliocene Sediments of Ch'Ijee's Bluff, Yukon Territory, Canada". International Journal of Plant Sciences. 163 (4): 687–697. doi:10.1086/340425. 
  16. ^ National Geographic. "Atlas of the Human Journey." 2005. May 2, 2007
  17. ^ Humans may have taken different path into Americas than thought Arctic passage wouldn’t have provided enough food for the earliest Americans’ journey by Thomas Summer, published in "Science News" on August 10, 2016
  18. ^ "Plant and animal DNA suggests first Americans took the coastal route". Nature. doi:10.1038/536138a. Retrieved 11 August 2016. 
  19. ^ Hey, Jody (2005). "On the Number of New World Founders: A Population Genetic Portrait of the Peopling of the Americas". PLoS Biology. 3 (6): e193. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030193. PMC 1131883free to read. PMID 15898833. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]