Persistent biotic interactions of a Gondwanan conifer from Cretaceous Patagonia to modern Malesia

Michael P. Donovan, Peter Wilf, Ari Iglesias, N. Rubén Cúneo, Conrad C. Labandeira

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19 Scopus citations


Many plant genera in the tropical West Pacific are survivors from the paleo-rainforests of Gondwana. For example, the oldest fossils of the Malesian and Australasian conifer Agathis (Araucariaceae) come from the early Paleocene and possibly latest Cretaceous of Patagonia, Argentina (West Gondwana). However, it is unknown whether dependent ecological guilds or lineages of associated insects and fungi persisted on Gondwanan host plants like Agathis through time and space. We report insect-feeding and fungal damage on Patagonian Agathis fossils from four latest Cretaceous to middle Eocene floras spanning ca. 18 Myr and compare it with damage on extant Agathis. Very similar damage was found on fossil and modern Agathis, including blotch mines representing the first known Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary crossing leaf-mine association, external foliage feeding, galls, possible armored scale insect (Diaspididae) covers, and a rust fungus (Pucciniales). The similar suite of damage, unique to fossil and extant Agathis, suggests persistence of ecological guilds and possibly the component communities associated with Agathis since the late Mesozoic, implying host tracking of the genus across major plate movements that led to survival at great distances. The living associations, mostly made by still-unknown culprits, point to previously unrecognized biodiversity and evolutionary history in threatened rainforest ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number708
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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