Podocarpium (Fabaceae) from the late Eocene of central Tibetan Plateau and its biogeographic implication

Li, Wei-Cheng; Huang, Jian; Chen, Lin-Lin; Spicer, Robert A.; Li, Shu-Feng; Liu, Jia; Gao, Yi; Wu, Fei-Xiang; Farnsworth, Alex; Valdes, Paul J.; Zhou, Zhe-Kun and Su, Tao (2022). Podocarpium (Fabaceae) from the late Eocene of central Tibetan Plateau and its biogeographic implication. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 305, article no. 104745.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.revpalbo.2022.104745


Podocarpium is an extinct genus in Fabaceae with rich fossil records in Eurasia dating back to the Eocene. However, the diversification and biogeographic histories of Podocarpium are poorly known due to a lack of fossils in some key regions, such as the Tibetan Plateau, an area recently shown to be crucial for floristic exchanges worldwide in the geological past. Here, we describe well-preserved fossil pods of Podocarpium from the late Eocene (~ 35 Ma) of the Lunpola Basin, central Tibetan Plateau, China. Together with detailed morphological observation and geometric morphology analysis, these fossil pods are named Podocarpium tibeticum W.-C. Li, J. Huang et T. Su sp. nov., characterized by asymmetrical elliptical valves, olecranon fruit beak, and a clearly oblique base. This material comprises the oldest fossil record of Podocarpiumfrom the Tibetan Plateau and adjacent regions. The discovery of P. tibeticum shows Podocarpium was present in central Tibet by the late Eocene. Together with previous fossil records, it indicates that Podocarpium may have originated in East Asia, migrated into the central valley of Tibet in the late Eocene, and then spread westward to Europe through a low-latitude path of island chains along the Neotethys. Results of paleoecological niche modeling demonstrate that Podocarpium had an almost worldwide potential distribution range in the Eocene, but this sharply contracted thereafter until by the Pliocene it was restricted to a small area of East Asia. Generally, this finding further supports the idea that what is now the central Tibetan Plateau was a globally significant hub for Paleogene floristic exchange.

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