Cenozoic plant diversity in the neotropics

Carlos Jaramillo, Milton J Rueda, Germán Mora
Science 2006 March 31, 311 (5769): 1893-6
Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the high levels of plant diversity in the Neotropics today, but little is known about diversification patterns of Neotropical floras through geological time. Here, we present the longest time series compiled for palynological plant diversity of the Neotropics (15 stratigraphic sections, 1530 samples, 1411 morphospecies, and 287,736 occurrences) from the Paleocene to the early Miocene (65 to 20 million years ago) in central Colombia and western Venezuela. The record shows a low-diversity Paleocene flora, a significantly more diverse early to middle Eocene flora exceeding Holocene levels, and a decline in diversity at the end of the Eocene and early Oligocene. A good correlation between diversity fluctuations and changes in global temperature was found, suggesting that tropical climate change may be directly driving the observed diversity pattern. Alternatively, the good correspondence may result from the control that climate exerts on the area available for tropical plants to grow.

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