Spatiotemporal variation in C4-grass abundance during the early to middle Miocene in Spain

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Michael Allen Urban1, Michael Urban2, David M Nelson3, Gonzalo Jimenez-Moreno4 and Fengsheng Hu2, (1)University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Urbana, IL, United States, (2)University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, Urbana, IL, United States, (3)Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Frostburg, MD, United States, (4)Universidad de Granada, Granada, Spain
Carbon-isotope analyses on a variety of substrates (e.g., leaf waxes, teeth, carbonates) suggest a pronounced increase in C4 plant biomass during the late Miocene and early Pliocene in many regions of the world. This spread of C4-dominated grasslands is thought to have occurred at the expense of C3-dominated grasslands. However, the earlier history of C4 grasses is uncertain, primarily because of difficulty assessing the presence and abundance of C4 grasses when they are relatively rare on the landscape. We measure d13C of individual grass pollen grains using SPIRAL (Single Pollen Isotope Ratio AnaLysis) to distinguish the relative abundance of C3 and C4 grasses during the early to middle Miocene in Spain. We analyzed a total of 3251 pollen grains isolated from 7 samples from Andalucia A1 (10-13.5 Ma), 7 samples from Gor (13-15 Ma) and 24 sediment samples from (Rubielos de Mora, (16-22 Ma). Palynological data indicate that grasses were not a significant component (5-20% of total terrestrial pollen) of the regional vegetation, which was composed of herbs, shrubs, and thermophilous (e.g., Taxodiaceae, Engelhardia) and mesothermic (QuercusCarya) trees. Based on our SPIRAL data, 21-72% of the grasses were C4, with the older northern site (Rubielos de Mora) having lower C4-grass abundance (average of 39%) than the younger and more southern sites (average of 62%). Paleoclimate reconstructions suggest that the region was mainly subtropical (warm and semi-arid/highly seasonal) at that time, and pollen spectra suggest that the regional vegetation was similar to that found today in northern Africa where C4 grasses dominate. Our pollen-isotope results imply an increase in C4-grass abundance through time, and/or a north-south climatic gradient, with wetter and less seasonal conditions that were less favorable to C4 grasses in the north. Overall, these results suggest that C4 grasses were relatively abundant in southwestern Europe during the early and middle Miocene, prior to their rise to ecological prominence throughout the world.