The discovery of an ancient rabbit ancestor, Amphilagus tomidai, is helping to reveal an important biogeographic link between Asia and Europe during the Miocene. Researchers say this species, which lived in present-day Siberia during the Miocene period, belonged to a genus that thought to exist only in Europe. This suggests the two continents were once connected. 

The Miocene began 23 million years ago and ended 5.3 million years ago during which time there was a barrier-free connection between Europe and Asia. The Paratethys Sea – which spanned from the northern Alps to the Aral Sea in western Asia – had disappeared and there were no high mountains to isolate the rabbits that radiated across open landscapes, aided by a cool, dry climate.

"The discovery of this mammal on the continent of Asia indicates that there were some paleogeographic and environmental conditions that favored the expansion of this species towards the east," Chiara Angelone, co-author and researcher at the Catalan Institute of Palaeontology Miquel Crusafont, explained in a news release

"These ancient animals help us to better understand the climatic and paleogeographic conditions of that period in time. Some discoveries add new insight into what we already know. Others, such as this one, uncover remarkable stories," Angelone added

The tudy also revealed that Amphilagus tomidai sported several primitive features. For instance, its teeth do not grow continuously as those of modern hares and rabbits grow, and these teeth also had solid roots.

Researchers say this data may justify a a re-evaluation of the Amphilagus genus. 

The study was recently published in the journal Historical Biology.

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