Collaborative Research: Patagonian Fossil Floras, the Keys to the Origins, Biogeography, Biodiversity, and Survival of the Gondwanan Rainforest Biome

Project: Research project

Project Details


The fossil record of life on land through time predominantly comes from the Northern Hemisphere. However, the outstandingly rich, relatively little-known fossil beds of Patagonia, southern Argentina, provide an unrivaled opportunity to learn whether life responded differently to mass extinction, plate tectonics, and past climate change on the other side of the world. This project will intensively sample and analyze fossil plants and animals from Patagonia through about 20 million years, from just before the end-Cretaceous dinosaur extinction (66 million years ago), through the early recovery period and the Eocene warming interval. Through groundbreaking field discoveries and state-of-the-art lab techniques, this research aims to transform understanding of the origins of the Southern Hemispheres flora and environments, the role of Patagonia, and the legacy of surviving living fossils now located in vulnerable rainforest areas as far away as Southeast Asia. The work will generate the most complete terrestrial record and curated fossil-plant collection for the Southern Hemisphere through a critical interval of Earth history. It will produce a new, globally significant reference point for studying mass extinction, recovery, and response to climate change from a fossilized living laboratory, with direct importance for conservation and ecosystem management today. In addition to scholarly publications and meeting presentations, a large number of educational, training, and outreach activities are planned. These will include exhibits, educational resource development for public engagement with the fossil sites, and a trilingual childrens book.

The project will use field paleontology and stratigraphy at a series of exceptional Patagonian fossil localities, dating from the latest Cretaceous to middle Eocene, to elevate understanding of Patagonia's uniquely informative fossil floras. Most of the fossil sites are located in the La Colonia, Lefipan, Salamanca, Penas Coloradas, and Huitrera formations of Chubut and neighboring provinces. The research will focus on five, broadly related questions targeting significant gaps in knowledge. (1) Was Patagonia a refuge from the end-Cretaceous mass extinction? (2) What are the composition, diversity, and biogeographic affinities of the earliest Paleocene floras and insect faunas? (3) Do the Eocene floras and faunas contain lineages that now survive in South America, Asia, and Africa, as well as Australasia? (4) Do the Eocene floras document the earliest phases of South American isolation by showing a loss of Gondwanan taxa and an increase in New World taxa through time? (5) How much geologic time does the prolific early Eocene site at Laguna del Hunco represent, and what processes formed these unique deposits that preserved one of the most diverse fossil biotas in the world?

Effective start/end date4/1/163/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $992,847.00


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