Frontiers of Forestry in China

, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 355–365 | Cite as

Fossil history and modern distribution of the genus Abies (Pinaceae)

  • Xiang Xiaoguo 
  • Cao Ming 
  • Zhou Zhekun Email author
Research Article


The plants of the genus Abies are dominant and key species in the dark coniferous forest in the Northern Hemisphere. There are 52 species, one subspecies and 12 varieties in the genus Abies in the world. The history and modern distribution of Abies were discussed. The genus has three modern distribution centers: South Europe, North America and East Asia. These areas are also rich in fossil records. The vertical distribution regions of Abies are from sea level to an elevation of 4,700 m, concentrated in 1,000–2,000 m (15 species). In China, the genus distributes in 20 provinces, especially abundant in the Hengduan Mountains. Meanwhile, endemic and relic phenomena are obvious in this genus. There are seven relic species with both limited individuals and limited distributed regions. Based on the fossil records and the latest phylogenetic data, the following hypothesis was proposed: Abies originated from the middle and high altitudes of the Northern Hemisphere in the middle Cretaceous and it was dispersed southward in the Eocene due to global climate cooling down. The distribution of Abies was deeply influenced by geological events such as the uplift of Himalaya, the Alps, the Rocky Mountains, the occurrence of the Asian Monsoon as well as the Quaternary glaciers. Finally, the current distribution pattern appeared in the Quaternary. The genus Abies has a fossil history and modern distribution pattern similar to that of Cathaya and Pseudolarix.


Abies fossil history modern distribution origin dispersal 


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© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Biodiversity and Biogeography, Kunming Institute of BotanyChinese Academy of SciencesKunmingChina
  2. 2.Guangxi Institute of BotanyGuangxi Zhuangzu Autonomous Region and Academia SinicaGuilinChina

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