Kershaw, Peter and Barbara Wagstaff. 2001. The southern conifer family Araucariaceae: history, status, and value for paleoenvironmental reconstruction. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 32: 397-414.

ABSTRACT

The Araucariaceae are important to biogeography because they have an ancient origin and are a distinctive and sometimes dominant component of southern hemisphere forest communities. This paper examines recent information on ecology and phylogeny and on pollen and macrofossil assemblages to assess the history and present-day status of the family and its potential for refinement of past environmental, particularly climatic, conditions. From an origin in the Triassic, the family expanded and diversified in both hemispheres in the Jurassic and Early Cretaceous and remained a significant component of Gondwanan vegetation until the latter part of the Cenozoic. The development of angiosperms in the Middle Cretaceous probably assisted in the demise of some araucarian components but there was also evolution of new genera. Recorded diversity in the early Cenozoic of Australia is as high as it was in the Early Cretaceous. Continental separation and associated climatic drying, cooling, and increased variability progressively reduced the ranges of conifers to moist, predominantly mesothermal climates on continents. However, tectonic and volcanic activity, partially associated with Australia's collision with Southeast Asia, provided new opportunities for some araucarian components on Asia-Pacific islands. Araucarians provide information on climatic conditions suitable for rainforest vegetation throughout their recorded period, even prior to the recognition or even existence of these forests in the fossil record. High pollen abundance is also indicative of marginal rainforest environments where these canopy emergents can compete effectively with angiosperm forest taxa. Despite their apparent relictual status in many areas, they provide precise paleoclimatic estimates in late Quaternary pollen records and have particular value in providing evidence of climatic variability that has otherwise been difficult to detect.