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Am Nat. 2005 Jun;165(6):634-50. Epub 2005 Apr 7.

Eocene plant diversity at Laguna del Hunco and Río Pichileufú, Patagonia, Argentina.

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Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA.


The origins of South America's exceptional plant diversity are poorly known from the fossil record. We report on unbiased quantitative collections of fossil floras from Laguna del Hunco (LH) and Río Pichileufú (RP) in Patagonia, Argentina. These sites represent a frost-free humid biome in South American middle latitudes of the globally warm Eocene. At LH, from 4,303 identified specimens, we recognize 186 species of plant organs and 152 species of leaves. Adjusted for sample size, the LH flora is more diverse than comparable Eocene floras known from other continents. The RP flora shares several taxa with LH and appears to be as rich, although sampling is preliminary. The two floras were previously considered coeval. However, (40)Ar/(39)Ar dating of three ash-fall tuff beds in close stratigraphic association with the RP flora indicates an age of 47.46+/-0.05 Ma, 4.5 million years younger than LH, for which one tuff is reanalyzed here as 51.91+/-0.22 Ma. Thus, diverse floral associations in Patagonia evolved by the Eocene, possibly in response to global warming, and were persistent and areally extensive. This suggests extraordinary richness at low latitudes via the latitudinal diversity gradient, corroborated by published palynological data from the Eocene of Colombia.

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