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The Quaternary avifauna of Crete, Greece.
Peter D. Weesie
Keywords: Avifauna; Crete; Quaternary; Systematics

    Pleistocene bird fossils have been studied from nine localities on Crete. Part of this material was described earlier by the author (Weesie, 1982) and will not be treated here in extenso, the results will be incorporated. More than one third of the over 10,000 fossil bird bones available could be identified ; they were found to represent at least 65 bird species. The following species of the Pleistocene Cretan avifauna are new to the fauna of Crete : Branta ruficollis, Haliaeetus albicilla, Gyps melitensis, Aquila chrysaetos simurgh n. ssp., Ketupa zeylomensis, Aegolius funereus, Dendrocopos leucotos, Zoothera dauma, Turdus iliacus and Pyrrhula pyrrhula. The Pleistocene Cretan avifauna differs less from comparable mainland avifaunas than (fossil) avifaunas from oceanic islands do. Still, the Pleistocene Cretan avifauna has two qualities that are characteristic of island avifaunas : the almost complete absence of a group of birds (the Galliformes) and the presence of two endemic (sub)species : the giant eagle Aquila chrysaetos simurgh n. ssp. and the long-legged owl Athene cretensis (Weesie, 1982). The new subspecies is described in the present study.
    These endemic birds of prey were found in association with their supposedly principal prey species (now extinct as well) : endemic mice for the owl and endemic deer for the eagle. Endemic mammals have been found in association with endemic birds of prey on many islands, not only in the Mediterranean. There is evidence that the size of endemic birds of prey becomes optimally adapted to their feeding on certain endemic mammals, especially rodents. Another characteristic of the Pleistocene Cretan avifauna is the great number of species of birds of prey. This appears to be a common characteristic of fossil avifaunas from caves on Mediterranean islands as well as from caves on the European mainland. However, we think that ecological conditions on Pleistocene Crete (especially the abundant presence of mice) helped to account for the high representation of birds of prey. Furthemore, the fossil avifauna enables us to draw some conclusions about the climate and vegetation on Pleistocene Crete : it is concluded that the climate was cooler than today and that Crete was largely covered with forests. Finally, the reasons for the extinction or disappearance from Crete of some bird species of the Pleistocene Cretan avifauna are discussed. 

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Published in Vol. 18, Fasc. 1 (1988)