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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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.
Occurrences of insect damage types on Patagonian fossil floras.
About this article
Nature Ecology & Evolution (2017)