Biodiversity and terrestrial ecology of a mid-Cretaceous, high-latitude floodplain, Alexander Island, Antarctica
The biodiversity and terrestrial ecology of the Late Albian Triton Point Formation (Fossil Bluff Group), Alexander Island, Antarctica is analysed to improve our understanding of polar biomes during the mid-Cretaceous thermal optimum. This formation was deposited on a high-latitude (75°S) floodplain and consists of two facies associations, a lower braided alluvial plain unit and an upper coastal meander-belt unit. Analysis of fossil plants in well exposed palaeosols reveals the existence of spatially complex plant communities. Braidplains supported patchy, low-density (91 trees/ha) stands of podocarp and taxodioid conifers on floodbasin substrates, and conifer–cycadophyte–fern–angiosperm thickets in riparian settings. Coastal meander-belts supported medium density (568 trees/ha) podocarp–araucarian conifer forests on mature floodbasin soils, and fern–angiosperm–ginkgo thickets in riparian settings. Growth-ring analysis indicates plants experienced stressful growing conditions on the braidplain characterized by high-frequency flood events, but more favourable growing conditions on the coastal plain. Additional vegetation disturbances were caused by arthropod–fungal attack, frost and wildfire. In terms of structure, composition, ecology and productivity these predominantly evergreen, broad-leafed conifer forests bear similarities to the extant temperate rainforests of New Zealand.