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High-Latitude Refugia in the Arctic – How Did Major Clades of Gymnosperms Cope with the End-Mesozoic Angiosperm Expansion?


In the Mesozoic greenhouse world, so-called ‘paratropical environments’ at high northern latitudes played a crucial role for the development, diversification and survival of major plant groups. High latitudes may have provided refugia for plant groups that could not compete with the rapidly radiating angiosperms (flowering plants) at lower latitudes in the mid-Cretaceous.

This project will provide a better understanding of Mesozoic fossil floras from the Arctic and assess the changing composition of the vegetation in northern Europe during the Late Triassic–Early Cretaceous. Further, the impact of angiosperms on previously dominating plant groups, such as cycadophytes and ginkgophytes, will be investigated. The focal area includes Ellesmere Island, Greenland, Norway (Andøya, Trondheim), Svalbard and Franz-Josef-Land, an area here called the ‘Nordic Arctic’.

A particular research focus will be on:

  1. The evolutionary history of a diverse, but poorly under-stood group of Mesozoic plants traditionally called “cycadophytes”.
  2. The factors behind their rise to dominance in the Late Triassic–Middle Jurassic.
  3. Their abrupt decline towards the Middle Cretaceous along with their potential survival in high-latitude refugia.

Particular questions that will be addressed include:

  • How did Nordic Arctic floras respond to major environmental perturbations across the Triassic/Jurassic boundary?
  • How were latitudinal gradients of Mesozoic vegetation expressed and how did they change through time?
  • How did the vegetation cope with polar/arctic conditions in a greenhouse world?
  • Can bennettitalean/cycadalean leaf epidermal characteristics be used for reliable estimates of CO2 concentrations in the Mesozoic atmosphere?

This research is funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR)

Project Participants at NRM

Christian Pott (principal investigator)

External Project Participants

Brian Axsmith (researcher), University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, USA

Jiang Baoyu (researcher), Nanjing University, Nanjing, PR China

Benjamin Bomfleur (researcher), University Münster, Germany

Guido Grimm (researcher), University Vienna, Austria

Friðgeir Grímsson (researcher), University Vienna, Austria

Sten-Anders Grundvåg (researcher), UNIS, Longyearbyen, Norway

Atle Mørk (researcher), SINTEF, Trondheim, Norway

Simon Schneider (researcher), CASP, Cambridge, UK

Hideo Takimoto (researcher), Nature Museum Ibaraki, Japan

Johanna H. A. van Konijnenburg-van Cittert (professor emerita), Naturalis Leiden and University of Utrecht, The Netherlands

Selected Publications

Pott C, Van der Burgh J, Van Konijnenburg-van Cittert JHA. 2016. New ginkgophytes from the Upper Triassic–Lower Cretaceous of Spitsbergen and Edgeøya (Svalbard, Arctic Norway): The history of Ginkgoales on Svalbard. — International Journal of Plant Sciences 177, 175-197. DOI & PDF: 10.1086/684194

Pott C, Launis A. 2015. Taeniopteris novomundensis sp. nov. – “cycadophyte” foliage from the Carnian of Switzerland and Svalbard reconsidered: How to use Taeniopteris? — Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 275, 19-31. DOI & PDF: 10.1127/njgpa/2015/0446

Pott C, Wang X, Zheng X. 2015. Wielandiella villosa comb. nov. from the Middle Jurassic of Daohugou, China: More evidence for divaricate plant architecture in Williamsoniaceae. — Botanica Pacifica 4, 137-148. DOI & PDF: 10.17581/bp.2015.04215

Launis A, Pott C, Mørk A. 2014. A glimpse into the Carnian: Late Triassic plant fossils from Hopen, Svalbard. — Norwegian Petroleum Directorate Bulletin 11, 35-42. DOI not available. PDF for freeexternal link

Pott C. 2014. A revision of Wielandiella angustifolia – a shrub-sized bennettite from the Rhaetian–Hettangian of Scania, Sweden, and Jameson Land, Greenland. — International Journal of Plant Sciences 175, 467-499. DOI & PDF: 10.1086/675577

Pott C. 2014. The Triassic flora of Svalbard. — Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 59, 709-740. DOI & PDF: 10.4202/app.2012.0090

Pott C, McLoughlin S. 2014. Divaricate growth habit in Williamsoniaceae: Unravelling the ecology of a key Mesozoic plant group. — Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments 94, 307-325. DOI & PDF: 10.1007/s12549-014-0157-9