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Plant fossils give first real picture of earliest Neotropical rainforests
Date:10/15/2009

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 sa
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Contact: Fabiany Herrera
fherrera@flmnh.ufl.edu
352-222-3897
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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