The leaf longevity of trees, deciduous or evergreen, plays an important role in climate feedbacks and plant ecology. In modern forests of the high latitudes, evergreen trees dominate; however, the fossil record indicates that deciduous vegetation dominated during some previous warm intervals. We show, through an integration of palaeobotanical techniques and isotope geochemistry of trees in one of the earliest polar forests (Late Permian, c. 260 Ma, Antarctica), that the arborescent glossopterid taxa were both deciduous and evergreen, with a greater abundance of evergreen trees occurring in the studied forests. These new findings suggest the possibility that deciduousness was a plastic trait in ancient polar plants, and that deciduous plants, migrating poleward from lower latitudes, were probably better adapted to high-disturbance areas in environments that were light-limited.
Supplementary material: Wood anatomy descriptions (supplemental file 1), stable carbon isotope data for tree rings (supplemental files 2–4), and method and parameters for modelled Δ13C (supplemental file 5) are available at www.geolsoc.org.uk/SUP18744.
- Received October 25, 2013.
- Accepted February 4, 2014.
- © The Geological Society of London