The relationship between Euramerican and Cathaysian tropical floras in the Late Palaeozoic: Palaeobiogeographical and palaeogeographical implications

Jason Hilton, CJ Cleal

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97 Citations (Scopus)


Wetland plant communities persisted though much of the Pennsylvanian in Euramerica and are the dominant coal forming vegetation in this region. Distribution of these floras show a dramatic decline at the end of the Carboniferous with many of the plant genera and species becoming extinct by the onset of the Permian. This has been correlated with climate change and in particular aridification associated with northwards plate motion and Euramerica, moving into the doldrums, but is also associated with the Variscan orogeny and forefront destroying large areas of formerly lowland basinal settings. Other factors may include Pennsylvanian glaciations as evidenced by cyclothem. and rhythmical deposition in lowlying wetland settings, and change in eustatic base level. Evidence from Euramerica demonstrates extinction of this kind of wetland biota by the earliest Permian and the development of drier floras including conifer dominated assemblages. However, new data from other parts of the world, most notably North China, confirm this model and highlight the presence of similar coal swamps ranging from the Late Pennsylvanian through the Permian. In this paper we summarise and synthesize recent taxonomic and systematic investigations undertaken on the plant fossils from the Pennsylvanian Benxi Formation - the oldest recognised wetland plant community in China - and the Early Permian Taiyuan Formation - the best preserved wetland plant community from China. Results indicate a remarkable similarity of the Pennsylvanian-Early Permian floras of North China with the older assemblages in the Pennsylvanian of Euramerica, and the presence of typical 'Euramerican' coal swamp plant families, genera and in some cases species in China. Conclusions include the presence of the Ameriosinian phytogeographical realm uniting Euramerica and northern Cathaysia at this time, coal swamps in the Permian of North China evolving from a 'Euramerican' origin, and the dramatic floral turnover at the end of the Carboniferous representing a regional event rather than a global extinction episode. Patterns of plant distribution through this interval have profound implications on established palacogeographical models and support continental connection between Euramerica and Cathaysia before the end of the Carboniferous, contradicting ideas of Cathaysian island biogeography and biotic distinction. Continental connection appears to be related to glacial eustatic low-stand and previously shallow marine environments becoming vegetated. Also important is the fact that in both Euramerica and North China the pattern of floristic demise within wetland plant communities are similar to each other, implying the same causal mechanisms, with plants occupying waterlogged positions being the most severely devastated. However, ecosystem demise occurred at the end of the Carboniferous in Euramerica and in the middle Permian in North China, but in both cases the primary cause was climate change. (C) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-116
Number of pages32
JournalEarth Science Reviews
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2007


  • palaeobotany
  • coal-swamp
  • palaeogeography
  • biogeography
  • carboniferous
  • Permian


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