Collaborative Research: Ancient Biodiversity Hotspot in Southern South America: Evolution of Speciose Floras in Patagonia from latest Cretaceous to middle Eocene

  • Wilf, Peter Daniel (PI)
  • Slingerland, Rudy (CoPI)
  • Cúneo, N. Rubén (CoPI)
  • Iglesias, Ari (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5).

This project investigates exceptionally species-rich but poorly known fossil plant deposits in Patagonia, Argentina, dating from 66-47 million years old. Approximately 80% of more than 500 species so far collected are new to science, and the time interval includes the end-Cretaceous (K-T) 'dinosaur' extinction and recovery as well as important global warming and cooling events. This critical time period is otherwise only well known, for land plants, in Western North America. The fossil floras hold immense relevance to modern biodiversity as an unrivaled data source regarding plant evolution, distribution, and ecology in the Southern Hemisphere. Some of the fundamental questions to be addressed are: 1) was there a major K-T plant extinction and long recovery in Patagonia, as in North America? 2) what are the modern distributions of the fossil plants? Australasian plants, representing a lost land connection via Antarctica, are the best known, but was the area also a source for today's Neotropical forests? and 3) was ancient Patagonia a rainforest?

This is a well-developed international collaboration involving abundant intellectual exchange. Training and career advancement of graduate students and postdocs is a major focus, as well as public education. Broad scientific benefits include: 1) the first densely sampled South American floral and paleoclimatic record for a time interval of immense global interest; 2) numerous, novel, well-dated plant-lineage appearances in South America of great interest for plant evolution and biogeography; 3) the first robust geological understanding of the floras; and 4) a high potential for significant unplanned discoveries. Research results will be disseminated widely. The thousands of fossil specimens will be permanently available through deposition in a well-curated public institution, Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio, Trelew, Argentina.

Effective start/end date8/15/097/31/15


  • National Science Foundation: $1,081,496.00


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