Plants and Animals Don’t Respond to Climate Change the Same Way – #365papers – 2018 – 54

Wing and Harrington, 2001, Floral response to rapid warming in the earliest Eocene and implications for concurrent faunal change: Paleobiology, v. 27, p. 539-563

What’s it about?

The Paleocene-Eocene boundary is marked by a period of rapid global warming and co-occuring changes in mammals in response to the warming, including the appearance of seemingly dwarfed species and the rise of important mammal groups like the hoofed mammals and primates. The authors here use fossilized pollen from rocks known to bracket the Paleocene-Eocene boundary and discuss the changes in plants during this important episode of climate change.

Why does it matter?

If mammals underwent significant changes during periods of rapid climate change, one might expect that plants would, too. Only that plants move around on the Earth’s surface in a very different way than do mammals. Plants can’t simply get up and walk to a better climate; they need to disperse seeds that would then take root in more hospitable environments. How plants move, and which plants do the moving, can provide a great deal of insight into the environmental change that occurred at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary.

Why did I read this?

I do research on rocks that also bracket the Paleocene-Eocene boundary and contain abundant plants fossil and pollen. I’ve read this paper more than once, and it seemed like a good time to refresh my memory.

What did I learn?

I found it interesting that the changes in flora across the Paleocene-Eocene boundary are quite subtle compared to those of the mammalian fauna. This has everything to do which how plants adjust their distribution on the landscape, because they can’t just get up and walk away.

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