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Angiosperm wood from the Upper Cretaceous (Coniacian) of British Columbia, Canada

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Fossil angiosperm wood was collected from shallow marine deposits in the Upper Cretaceous (Coniacian) Comox Formation on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The largest specimen is a log at least 2 m long and 38 cm in diameter. Thin sections from a sample of this log reveal diffuseporous wood with indistinct growth rings and anatomy similar to Paraphyllanthoxylon. Occasional idioblasts with dark contents in the rays distinguish this wood from previously known Paraphyllanthoxylon species and suggest affinity with Lauraceae. The log also includes galleries filled with dry-wood termite coprolites. This trunk reveals the presence of tree-sized angiosperms in what is now British Columbia, and the association of dry-wood termites with angiosperm woods by the Coniacian (89 Ma). To understand the significance of this discovery, we reviewed the record of Cretaceous woods from North America. Our analysis of the distribution of fossil wood occurrences from Cretaceous deposits supports the conclusion that there was a strong latitudinal gradient in both the size and distribution of angiosperm trees during the Late Cretaceous, with no reports of Cretaceous angiosperm trees north of 50°N paleo-latitude in North America. The rarity of angiosperm wood in the Cretaceous has long been used to support the idea that flowering plants were generally of low-stature for much of the Cretaceous; however, large-stature trees with Paraphyllanthoxylon-like wood anatomy were widespread at lower–middle paleo-latitudes at least in North America during the Late Cretaceous. Thus, the presence of a large Paraphyllanthoxylon log in the Comox Formation suggests that Vancouver Island has moved significantly northward since the Coniacian as indicated by other geological and paleobotanical studies.

Affiliations: 1: L.H. Bailey Hortorium, Plant Biology section, School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University ; 2: Department of Forest Biomaterials, N.C. State University ; 3: Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Oregon State University


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