Global vegetation dynamics and latitudinal temperature gradients during the mid to Late Miocene (15.97-5.33 Ma)

Matthew Pound, Alan Haywood, Ulrich Salzmann, James B. Riding

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252 Citations (Scopus)


A 617 site palaeobotanical dataset for the mid to Late Miocene is presented. This dataset is internally consistent and provides a comprehensive overview of vegetational change from 15.97 to 5.33 Ma. The palaeobotanical dataset has been translated into the BIOME4 classification scheme to enable direct comparison with climate model outputs. The vegetation change throughout the Langhian, Seravallian, Tortonian and Messinian is discussed. The data shows that the Langhian, which includes the end of the Mid – Miocene Climatic Optimum, represents a world significantly warmer than today. The high northern latitudes were characterised by cool – temperate forests, the mid – latitudes by warm – temperate mixed forests, the tropics by tropical evergreen broadleaf forests and Antarctica by tundra shrub vegetation. Cool – temperate mixed forest existed during the Seravallian in the high northern latitudes, a reduction in warm – temperate mixed forests in the mid latitudes and a loss of tundra on Antarctica was noted. Tortonian vegetation distribution indicates that further cooling had occurred since the Seravallian. The major changes in vegetation include the first evidence for cold taiga forest in the high northern latitudes, and a further reduction of warm – temperate mixed forests were the major changes in vegetation. By the Messinian, this cooling trend had eliminated warm – temperate mixed forests from the western USA and Australia and had formed mid – latitude deserts. Despite the cooling trend throughout the Mid to Late Miocene, the vegetation distribution of all four reconstructed stages reflect the vegetation of a world warmer than the pre – industrial conditions. The latitudinal distribution of bioclimatic zones suggests that the latitudinal temperature gradient for the Langhian would have been significantly shallower than at present and has gradually, but asymmetrically, become more modern towards the end of the Miocene. First the southern hemisphere distribution of bioclimatic zones became more modern, probably due to the climatic effects of a fully glaciated Antarctica. The northern hemisphere bioclimatic zone gradient continued to be shallower than modern throughout the Miocene and slowly became more modern by the Messinian.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2012


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