Nav: Home

Lilly Pilly fossils reveal snowless Snowy Mountains

October 03, 2018

Leaf fossils discovered high in Australia's Snowy Mountains have revealed a past history of warmer rainforest vegetation and a lack of snow, in contrast with the alpine vegetation and winter snow-covered slopes of today.

University of Adelaide research, published in the American Journal of Botany, describes fossils of the iconic Australian tree, the Lilly Pilly, prized for its glossy, green leaves, white flowers, and red or pink edible fruits, and commonly planted in streets and gardens across Australia.

Lilly Pilly trees (from the genus Syzygium) occur naturally in tropical to subtropical rainforests throughout Australasia, southern Asia and Africa, not mountain slopes covered by winter snow.

Researchers identified fossil Lilly Pilly leaves recovered from old gold mining pits near the historic town of Kiandra, 1400 metres above sea level in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. The fossils are preserved in ancient lake sediments, overlain by basalt rock, deposited by lava flows that erupted during some of the last stages of uplift that produced the Eastern Highlands about 20 million years ago.

"The Lilly Pilly was a traditional food source for Aboriginal peoples and early European settlers and is still an important food source for many native animals and birds, as well as used for making cakes and jams," says lead researcher Myall Tarran, PhD candidate in the University's School of Biological Sciences.

"But despite being such an important and iconic plant, no convincing fossils have ever been described in the scientific literature, until now.

"These fossils add to growing evidence that in this region about 20 million years ago there would have been temperate rainforest. The climate was warmer and wetter, perhaps analogous to the modern day Atherton Tablelands in North Queensland.

"There would have been no, or very little, winter snowfall and the alpine zone, as we know it in the Snowy Mountains, was not yet established."

Mr Tarran says it's possible the lack of snow was a result of continuing tectonic uplift, but higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were likely to have played a role.

"Uplift still hadn't fully finished in the region at that stage, so perhaps this forest was actually growing at a slightly lower altitude," he says. "But we also know that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and therefore global average temperatures, were much higher during this time."

"The fossils provide us with a window into what the Snowy Mountains looked like in a much warmer world, and help us to think about what a warmer world will look like. For us here in Australia, that might mean no snow in the mountains."
-end-
Mr Tarran's research was supervised by Professor Bob Hill, Director of the University of Adelaide's Environment Institute, and Dr Peter Wilson, a Principal Research Scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, in collaboration with the State Herbarium of South Australia.

Media Contact:

Myall Tarran, PhD candidate, School of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide, Mobile: +61 (0)435 735 620, myall.tarran@adelaide.edu.au

Robyn Mills, Media Officer, Phone: +61 (0)8 8313 6341, Mobile: +61 (0)410 689 084, robyn.mills@adelaide.edu.au

University of Adelaide

Related Fossils Articles:

Ancestor of all animals identified in Australian fossils
A team led by UC Riverside geologists has discovered the first ancestor on the family tree that contains most animals today, including humans.
Metabolic fossils from the origin of life
Since the origin of life, metabolic networks provide cells with nutrition and energy.
Fossils of the future to mostly consist of humans, domestic animals
In a co-authored paper published online in the journal Anthropocene, University of Illinois at Chicago paleontologist Roy Plotnick argues that the fossil record of mammals will provide a clear signal of the Anthropocene era.
Exceptional fossils may need a breath of air to form
New research led by The University of Texas at Austin has found that a long held belief by paleontologists about the fossilization process may be wrong.
New 'king' of fossils discovered in Australia
Fossils of a giant new species from the long-extinct group of sea creatures called trilobites have been found on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.
Two tiny beetle fossils offer evolution and biogeography clues
Recently, an international team led by Dr. CAI Chenyang, from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported two new and rare species of the extant family Clambidae from Burmese amber: Acalyptomerus thayerae Cai and Lawrence, 2019, and Sphaerothorax uenoi Cai and Lawrence, 2019.
Newly described fossils could help reveal why some dinos got so big
A new, in-depth anatomical description of the best preserved specimens of a car-sized sauropod relative from North America could help paleontologists with unraveling the mystery of why some dinosaurs got so big.
Lilly Pilly fossils reveal snowless Snowy Mountains
Leaf fossils discovered high in Australia's Snowy Mountains have revealed a past history of warmer rainforest vegetation and a lack of snow, in contrast with the alpine vegetation and winter snow-covered slopes of today.
Molecular fossils confirm Dickinsonia as one of Earth's earliest animals
By identifying specific biomarkers preserved alongside fossils of oval-shaped life forms from the Ediacaran Period, fossils from which are typically considered one of the greatest mysteries in paleontology, researchers say the ovular organism is not a fungus or protist, as some have thought, but an early animal.
Fossils reveal diverse mesozoic pollinating lacewings
A research group led by professor WANG Bo from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology has provided new insight into the niche diversity, chemical communication, and defense mechanisms of Mesozoic pollinating insects.
More Fossils News and Fossils Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Our Relationship With Water
We need water to live. But with rising seas and so many lacking clean water – water is in crisis and so are we. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas around restoring our relationship with water. Guests on the show include legal scholar Kelsey Leonard, artist LaToya Ruby Frazier, and community organizer Colette Pichon Battle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#569 Facing Fear
What do you fear? I mean really fear? Well, ok, maybe right now that's tough. We're living in a new age and definition of fear. But what do we do about it? Eva Holland has faced her fears, including trauma and phobia. She lived to tell the tale and write a book: "Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Uncounted
First things first: our very own Latif Nasser has an exciting new show on Netflix. He talks to Jad about the hidden forces of the world that connect us all. Then, with an eye on the upcoming election, we take a look back: at two pieces from More Perfect Season 3 about Constitutional amendments that determine who gets to vote. Former Radiolab producer Julia Longoria takes us to Washington, D.C. The capital is at the heart of our democracy, but it's not a state, and it wasn't until the 23rd Amendment that its people got the right to vote for president. But that still left DC without full representation in Congress; D.C. sends a "non-voting delegate" to the House. Julia profiles that delegate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and her unique approach to fighting for power in a virtually powerless role. Second, Radiolab producer Sarah Qari looks at a current fight to lower the US voting age to 16 that harkens back to the fight for the 26th Amendment in the 1960s. Eighteen-year-olds at the time argued that if they were old enough to be drafted to fight in the War, they were old enough to have a voice in our democracy. But what about today, when even younger Americans are finding themselves at the center of national political debates? Does it mean we should lower the voting age even further? This episode was reported and produced by Julia Longoria and Sarah Qari. Check out Latif Nasser's new Netflix show Connected here. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.