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Rapid recovery of Patagonian plant–insect associations after the end-Cretaceous extinction

Abstract

The Southern Hemisphere may have provided biodiversity refugia after the Cretaceous/Palaeogene (K/Pg) mass extinction. However, few extinction and recovery studies have been conducted in the terrestrial realm using well-dated macrofossil sites that span the latest Cretaceous (late Maastrichtian) and early Palaeocene (Danian) outside western interior North America (WINA). Here, we analyse insect-feeding damage on 3,646 fossil leaves from the latest Maastrichtian and three time slices of the Danian in Chubut, Patagonia, Argentina (palaeolatitude approximately 50° S). We test the southern refugial hypothesis and the broader hypothesis that the extinction and recovery of insect herbivores, a central component of terrestrial food webs, differed substantially from WINA at locations far south of the Chicxulub impact structure in Mexico. We find greater insect-damage diversity in Patagonia than in WINA during both the Maastrichtian and Danian, indicating a previously unknown insect richness. As in WINA, the total diversity of Patagonian insect damage decreased from the Cretaceous to the Palaeocene, but recovery to pre-extinction levels occurred within approximately 4 Myr compared with approximately 9 Myr in WINA. As for WINA, there is no convincing evidence for survival of any of the diverse Cretaceous leaf miners in Patagonia, indicating a severe K/Pg extinction of host-specialized insects and no refugium. However, a striking difference from WINA is that diverse, novel leaf mines are present at all Danian sites, demonstrating a considerably more rapid recovery of specialized herbivores and terrestrial food webs. Our results support the emerging idea of large-scale geographic heterogeneity in extinction and recovery from the end-Cretaceous catastrophe.

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Figure 1: Insect damage on latest Cretaceous and early Palaeocene leaves from Chubut, Argentina.
Figure 2: Insect-feeding damage richness for late Cretaceous and Palaeocene floras from Patagonia and WINA.
Figure 3: Occurrences of 69 insect damage types through four time slices spanning the latest Cretaceous to early Palaeocene in Patagonia, Argentina.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank E. Currano, K. Johnson, P. Puerta, L. Reiner and E. Ruigómez for field and laboratory assistance and T. Bralower, D. Hughes and M. Patzkowsky for discussion. This study was supported by grants to M.P.D. from the Evolving Earth Foundation, the Geological Society of America, Sigma Xi, the Paleontological Society and the P. D. Krynine Memorial Fund of Penn State Department of Geosciences; and to P.W., A.I. and N.R.C. from NSF awards DEB-0919071 and DEB-1556666.

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M.P.D., A.I., P.W. and C.C.L. designed the research. M.P.D., A.I., P.W. and N.R.C. did the fieldwork. M.P.D., A.I. and C.C.L. collected the DT data. N.R.C. led research on the Lefipán flora. M.P.D. performed the analyses and wrote the manuscript. All authors commented on and substantially contributed to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Michael P. Donovan.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Figures 1–10, Supplementary Tables 1 and 2 and Supplementary References (PDF 1722 kb)

Supplementary Data

Occurrences of insect damage types on Patagonian fossil floras. (XLSX 818 kb)

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Donovan, M., Iglesias, A., Wilf, P. et al. Rapid recovery of Patagonian plant–insect associations after the end-Cretaceous extinction. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 0012 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-016-0012

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