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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jan 15;105(2):449-53. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0708588105. Epub 2008 Jan 3.

The impact of Miocene atmospheric carbon dioxide fluctuations on climate and the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems.

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Faculty of Science, Institute of Environmental Biology, Department of Palaeoecology, Laboratory of Palaeobotany and Palynology, Utrecht University, Budapestlaan 4, 3584 CD, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The Miocene is characterized by a series of key climatic events that led to the founding of the late Cenozoic icehouse mode and the dawn of modern biota. The processes that caused these developments, and particularly the role of atmospheric CO2 as a forcing factor, are poorly understood. Here we present a CO2 record based on stomatal frequency data from multiple tree species. Our data show striking CO2 fluctuations of approximately 600-300 parts per million by volume (ppmv). Periods of low CO2 are contemporaneous with major glaciations, whereas elevated CO2 of 500 ppmv coincides with the climatic optimum in the Miocene. Our data point to a long-term coupling between atmospheric CO2 and climate. Major changes in Miocene terrestrial ecosystems, such as the expansion of grasslands and radiations among terrestrial herbivores such as horses, can be linked to these marked fluctuations in CO2.

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