Ceratopetalum(Cunoniaceae) fruits of Australasian affinity from the early Eocene Laguna del Hunco flora, Patagonia, Argentina

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Abstract

Background and Aims

Radially symmetrical, five-winged fossil fruits from the highly diverse early Eocene Laguna del Hunco flora of Chubut Province, Patagonia, Argentina, are named, described and illustrated. The main goals are to assess the affinities of the fossils and to place them in an evolutionary, palaeoecological and biogeographic context.

Methods

Specimens of fossil fruits were collected from the Tufolitas Laguna del Hunco. They were prepared, photographed and compared with similar extant and fossil fruits using published literature. Their structure was also evaluated by comparing them with that of modern Ceratopetalum (Cunoniaceae) fruits through examination of herbarium specimens.

Key Results

The Laguna del Hunco fossil fruits share the diagnostic features that characterize modern and fossil Ceratopetalum (symmetry, number of fruit wings, presence of a conspicuous floral nectary and overall venation pattern). The pattern of the minor wing (sepal) veins observed in the Patagonian fossil fruits is different from that of modern and previously described fossil Ceratopetalum fruits; therefore, a new fossil species is recognized. An apomorphy (absence of petals) suggests that the fossils belong within crown-group Ceratopetalum.

Conclusions

The Patagonian fossil fruits are the oldest known record for Ceratopetalum. Because the affinities, provenance and age of the fossils are so well established, this new Ceratopetalum fossil species is an excellent candidate for use as a calibration point in divergence dating studies of the family Cunoniaceae. It represents the only record of Ceratopetalum outside Australasia, and further corroborates the biogeographic connection between the Laguna del Hunco flora and ancient and modern floras of the Australasian region.

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