Navigation Links
Plant fossils give first real picture of earliest Neotropical rainforests

GAINESVILLE, Fla. A team of researchers including a University of Florida paleontologist has used a rich cache of plant fossils discovered in Colombia to provide the first reliable evidence of how Neotropical rainforests looked 58 million years ago.

Researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and UF, among others, found that many of the dominant plant families existing in today's Neotropical rainforests including legumes, palms, avocado and banana have maintained their ecological dominance despite major changes in South America's climate and geological structure.

The study, which appears this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined more than 2,000 megafossil specimens, some nearly 10 feet long, from the Cerrejn Formation in northern Colombia. The fossils are from the Paleocene epoch, which occurred in the 5- to 7-million-year period following the massive extinction event responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs.

"Neotropical rainforests have an almost nonexistent fossil record," said study co-author Fabiany Herrera, a graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. "These specimens allow us to actually test hypotheses about their origins for the first time ever."

Herrera said the new specimens, discovered in 2003, also provide information for future studies that promise to provide an even stronger understanding of the plants that formed the earliest Neotropical communities.

Many previous assumptions and hypotheses on the earliest rainforests are based on studies of pollen fossils, which did not provide information about climate, forest structure, leaf morphology or insect herbivory.

The new study provides evidence Neotropical rainforests were warmer and wetter in the late Paleocene than today but were composed of the same plant families that now thrive in rainforests. "We have the fossils to prove this," Herrera said. "It is also intriguing that while the Cerrejn rainforest shows many of the characteristics of modern equivalents, plant diversity is lower."

The site, one of the world's largest open-pit coal mines, also yielded the fossil for the giant snake known as Titanoboa, described by UF scientists earlier this year.

"These new plant fossils show us that the forest during the time of Titanoboa, 58 million years ago, was similar in many ways to that of today," said Florida Museum vertebrate paleontologist Jonathan Bloch, who described Titanoboa but was not part of the rainforest study. "Like Titanoboa, which is clearly related to living boas and anacondas, the ancient forest of northern Colombia had similar families of plants as we see today in that ecosystem. The foundations of the Neotropical rainforests were there 58 million years ago."

Megafossils found at the Cerrejn site made it possible to use leaf structure to identify specimens down to the genus level. This resolution allowed the identification of plant genera that still exist in Neotropical rainforests. With pollen fossils, specimens can be categorized only to the family level.

Researchers were surprised by the relative lack of diversity found in the Paleocene rainforest, Herrera said. Statistical analyses showed that the plant communities found in the Cerrejn Formation were 60 percent to 80 percent less diverse than those of modern Neotropical rainforests. Evidence of herbivory also showed a low diversity level among insects.

The study's authors say the relative lack of diversity indicates either the beginning of rainforest species diversification or the recovery of existing species from the Cretaceous extinction event.

The researchers estimate the Paleocene rainforest received about 126 inches of rainfall annually and had an average annual temperature greater than 86 degrees. The Titanoboa study, which used different methods, estimated an average temperature between 89 and 91 degrees. Today the region's temperatures average about 81 degrees.

Herrera is now comparing fossils from the Cerrejn site to specimens from other Paleocene sites in Colombia to see how far the early rainforest extended geographically. He is also examining fossils from a Cretaceous site to determine differences in composition before and after the extinction event.


Contact: Fabiany Herrera
University of Florida

Related biology news :

1. Cell death occurs in the same way in plants, animals and humans
2. New portal for plant genomics will support research into improved crops
3. Iowa State researchers looking for catalyst that allows plants to produce hydrocarbons
4. A step toward better brain implants using conducting polymer nanotubes
5. Erie County home to plant never before recorded in Pa.
6. MSU licenses plant oil enhancement technology to BASF Plant Science
7. Plants response to fire tested
8. Lotus-plant-inspired dust-busting shield to protect space gear
9. Explaining why pruning encourages plants to thrive
10. Rare genetic disease successfully reversed using stem cell transplantation
11. Exotic timber plantations found to use more than twice the water of native forests
Post Your Comments:
(Date:10/29/2015)... , October 29, 2015 ... biometric authentication company focused on the growing mobile ... wallet announces that StackCommerce, a leading marketplace to ... featuring the Wocket® smart wallet on StackSocial for ... ) ("NXT-ID" or the "Company"), a biometric authentication ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... JOSE, Calif. , Oct. 27, 2015 Synaptics ... interface solutions, today announced that Google has adopted the ... of touch controller solutions to power its newest flagship ... 6P by Huawei. --> ... partners like Google to provide strategic collaboration in the ...
(Date:10/23/2015)... Research and Markets ( ) has ... Biometrics Market 2015-2019" report to their offering. ... global voice recognition biometrics market to grow at a ... --> --> The report, Global Voice ... an in-depth market analysis with inputs from industry experts. ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... Nov. 24, 2015 Cepheid (NASDAQ: CPHD ... at the following conference, and invited investors to participate ...      Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 11.00 a.m. ...      Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 11.00 a.m. ... New York, NY      Tuesday, December ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... 24, 2015 , ... International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) ... annual events for pharmaceutical manufacturing: 2015 Annual Meeting. The conference took place in ... largest number of attendees in more than a decade. , “The 2015 ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , ... November 24, 2015 , ... This fall, global ... competitive events in five states to develop and pitch their BIG ideas to improve ... each state are competing for votes to win the title of SAP's Teen Innovator, ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 24, 2015  Tikcro Technologies Ltd. (OTCQB: TIKRF) today announced that its ... at 11:00 a.m. Israel time, at the law ... Allon Street, 36 th Floor, Tel Aviv, Israel ... and Izhak Tamir to the Board of Directors; ... directors; , approval of an amendment to certain terms of options ...
Breaking Biology Technology: