Evidence of Late Palaeocene-Early Eocene equatorial rain forest refugia in southern Western Ghats, India
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Equatorial rain forests that maintain a balance between speciation and extinction are hot-spots for studies of biodiversity. Western Ghats in southern India have gained attention due to high tropical biodiversity and endemism in their southern most area. We attempted to track the affinities of the pollen flora of the endemic plants of Western Ghat area within the fossil palynoflora of late Palaeocene-early Eocene (∼55–50 Ma) sedimentary deposits of western and northeastern Indian region. The study shows striking similarity of extant pollen with twenty eight most common fossil pollen taxa of the early Palaeogene. Widespread occurrences of coal and lignite deposits during early Palaeogene provide evidence of existence of well diversified rain forest community and swampy vegetation in the coastal low lying areas all along the western and northeastern margins of the Indian subcontinent. Prevalence of excessive humid climate during this period has been seen as a result of equatorial positioning of Indian subcontinent, superimposed by a long term global warming phase (PETM and EECO) during the early Palaeogene. The study presents clear evidence that highly diversified equatorial rain forest vegetation once widespread in the Indian subcontinent during early Palaeogene times, are now restricted in a small area as a refugia in the southernmost part of the Western Ghat area. High precipitation and shorter periods of dry months seem to have provided suitable environment to sustain lineages of ancient tropical vegetation in this area of Western Ghats in spite of dramatic climatic changes subsequent to the post India-Asia collision and during the Quaternary and Recent times.