Paleogene Ficus leaves from India and their implications for fig evolution and diversification

Chandra, Kajal; Spicer, R. A.; Shukla, Anumeha; Spicer, Teresa; Mehrotra, R.C. and Singh, Amit Kumar (2023). Paleogene Ficus leaves from India and their implications for fig evolution and diversification. American Journal of Botany, 110(3), article no. e16145.



Ficus is a scientifically and economically important genus with abundant fossil records from the Paleocene to Pleistocene, but with an intriguing early evolutionary history that remains unresolved. Here, the foliage of three well-preserved figs is described from the early Paleogene succession of Gurha mine, Rajasthan, India. These fossils provide new morphological data that strengthens our understanding of the past occurrences of Ficus and, alongside all validly published records of fossil figs, helps to trace the evolutionary history of figs.

Fossils were identified and described by comparison with their closest modern analogs using the Nearest Living Relative (NLR) technique. Validated fig records are listed and categorized into six geological time frames. Modern precipitation data for the current distributions of NLRs were downloaded from the Climatic Research Unit Timeseries (CRU TS).

Fossil leaves assigned to 3 new species Ficus paleodicranostyla, F. paleovariegata, and F. paleoauriculata closely resemble their modern analogs based on leaf morphology. Reliable fossil records were used to hypothesize historical fig distributions and paleodispersal pathways. Precipitation data suggest higher precipitations at the fossil locality during the early Paleogene than at present.

The fossils described herein supplement fig fossil records known from other regions indicating that figs were widely diverse across low-latitudes by the early Paleogene. These data support a Eurasian origin for figs, highlight a pivotal role for the Indian subcontinent during the early phase of fig diversification, and depict a perhumid to humid climate with high rainfall concordant with paleoclimate evidence from the Gurha mine.

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