CORDIS - EU research results

Testing for plant extinction across the Paleocene-Eocene boundary


The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) at 55.8 Ma represents a natural experiment in rapid global warming with transient temperature increases on land of more than 6 °C lasting about 170 Ky. Most warming probably occurred within the first 10 kys of the PETM and was associated with the release of >2000 Gt of light carbon into the oceans and atmosphere. Biotic responses to the PETM are profound in both the marine and terrestrial realm and include transient shifts in community composition, cryptic speciation, extinction, diversity changes and intercontinental changes in species’ geographic ranges. But we know very little about the plant responses to environmental change at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary. Plant extinction in the tropics was recently proposed based on modelled climate during the PETM but there is little evidence to support this idea. This project tests whether the Paleocene-Eocene boundary is associated with plant extinction. We will collate information from fossil plants (pollen, spores and megafloral remains such as leaves) from North America and Europe taken from formerly tropical to warm-temperate vegetation types. We intend to database information and also collect some primary information through fieldwork. We will statistically analyse any extinction pattern through construction of a null model to factor out background levels of extinction expected through time from those that are statistically significant. Using geographical information systems (GIS) we will map vegetation types based on the fossil plants from the late Paleocene and from the early Eocene and identify, based on the preceding statistically work, those regions which contain vegetation types susceptible to extinction. Our project will provide training to a promising Czech researcher in quantitative methods in palaeobiology and in cutting-edge methods through synergy with research techniques used in fields such as meteorology, urban development and transport logistics.

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EU contribution
€ 172 740,80
B15 2TT Birmingham
United Kingdom

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West Midlands (England) West Midlands Birmingham
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
May Chung (Ms.)
Total cost
No data