What was the vegetation in northwest Australia during the Paleogene, 66-23 million years ago?

Michael Macphail, Robert S Hill

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Fossil pollen and spores preserved in drillcore from both the upper South Alligator River (SARV) in the Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory and the North-West Shelf, Western Australia provide the first record of plants and plant communities occupying the coast and adjacent hinterland in north-west Australia during the Paleogene 66 to 23million years ago. The palynologically-dominant woody taxon is Casuarinaceae, a family now comprising four genera of evergreen scleromorphic shrubs and trees native to Australia, New Guinea, South-east Asia and Pacific Islands. Rare taxa include genera now mostly restricted to temperate rainforest in New Guinea, New Caledonia, New Zealand, South-East Asia and/or Tasmania, e.g. Dacrydium, Phyllocladus and the Nothofagus subgenera Brassospora and Fuscospora. These appear to have existed in moist gorges on the Arnhem Land Plateau, Kakadu National Park. No evidence for Laurasian rainforest elements was found. The few taxa that have modern tropical affinities occur in Eocene or older sediments in Australia, e.g. Lygodium, Anacolosa, Elaeagnus, Malpighiaceae and Strasburgeriaceae. We conclude the wind-pollinated Oligocene to possibly Early Miocene vegetation in the upper SARV was Casuarinaceae sclerophyll forest or woodland growing under seasonally dry conditions and related to modern Allocasuarina/Casuarina formations. There are, however, strong floristic links to coastal communities growing under warm to hot, and seasonally to uniformly wet climates in north-west Australia during the Paleocene-Eocene.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)556-574
    JournalAustralian Journal of Botany
    Issue number43652
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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