On an expedition to the Central Andean Plateau, researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and colleagues were astounded to find a huge fossil tree buried in the cold, grassy plain.
The plant-fossil record from this high-altitude site in southern Peru contains dramatic reminders that the environment in the Andes mountains changed drastically during the past 10 million years, but not in the ways that climate models of the past suggest. Findings from the expedition are presented in the journal Science Advances.
“This tree and the hundreds of fossil wood, leaf and pollen samples we collected on the expedition, reveal that when these plants were alive the ecosystem was more humid—even more humid than climate models of the past predicted,” said Camila Martinez, a fellow at STRI, who recently finished her doctorate at Cornell University. “There is probably no comparable modern ecosystem, because temperatures were higher when these fossils were deposited 10 million years ago.”
The anatomy of the petrified (permineralized) wood the researchers found is very much like wood anatomy in low-elevation tropical forests today. Indeed, the altitude then was probably only 2,000 meters above sea level.
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