Long-term floristic and climatic stability of northern Indochina: Evidence from the Oligocene Ha Long flora, Vietnam

Huang, Jian; Spicer, Robert A.; Li, Shu-Feng; Liu, Jia; Do, Truong Van; Nguyen, Hung Ba; Zhou, Zhe-Kun and Su, Tao (2022). Long-term floristic and climatic stability of northern Indochina: Evidence from the Oligocene Ha Long flora, Vietnam. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 593, article no. 110930.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2022.110930


The antiquity of the tropical Asian flora is being revealed by recent detailed work on a number of Cenozoic plant megafossil sites, some of which have been radiometrically dated for the first time, but our knowledge of how the highly diverse modern biota came into being remains poor due to a sparsity of records. In this paper, we describe fossil plant assemblages from the Oligocene Dong Ho Formation of the Ha Long region, northern Vietnam. The Oligocene Ha Long megafossil flora has so far yielded 38 species, including conifers and angiosperms mainly belonging to Fagaceae, Lauraceae and Dipterocarpaceae, all with significant tropical Asian kinship. The Ha Long flora is similar to other Paleogene floras from southern China, especially those from the Pan Gulf of Tonkin region. The Ha Long floral composition is typical of a tropical-subtropical ecotone and the vegetation is reconstructed as a lowland tropical evergreen forest mixed with calcicole (limestone-loving) taxa. These taxa and the vegetation type they comprise still exist in this area. Palaeoclimate reconstruction made using both the Coexistence Approach and the Climate Leaf Analysis Multivariate Program indicate a mean annual temperature of ~20 °C, a coldest month mean temperature around 10 °C, and yearly precipitation averaging almost 2000 mm. These results suggest a warm and humid peripheral tropical environment. Floristic and climatic comparison within the Ha Long and other southern China palaeofloras reveals a long-term environmental, floristic and vegetational stability in this region since the Paleogene. This long-maintained plant diversity also provided a source for populating the East Asian flora and vegetation after the late Paleogene East Asian arid belt retreat.

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