Expansion of Arthropod Herbivory in Late Triassic South Africa: The Molteno Biota, Aasvoëlberg 411 Site and Developmental Biology of a Gall

Part of the Topics in Geobiology book series (TGBI, volume 46)


The Carnian Aasvoëlberg 411 (Aas411) site of the Molteno Formation in South Africa provides exceptional data for understanding how plants, their arthropod herbivores and interactions responded to the P-Tr ecological crisis approximately 18 million years earlier. Our study lists six consequences stemming from the P-Tr event. First, Aas411 was one of the most herbivorized of Molteno’s 106 sites, consisting of 20,358 plant specimens represented by 111 plant form-taxa that includes 14 whole-plant taxa (WPT); the insect damage consists of 11 functional feeding groups (FFGs), 44 damage types (DTs) and 1127 herbivorized specimens for an herbivory value of 5.54%. Second, the seven most herbivorized hosts, in decreasing importance, were the conifer Heidiphyllum elongatum; corystosperm Dicroidium crassinervis; ginkgophyte Sphenobaiera schenckii, peltasperms Lepidopteris stormbergensis and L. africana and horsetail Zonulamites viridensis. Third, generalized feeding damage and 11 host-specialized associations were present that targeted 39 of 111 plant taxa. Fourth, the Heidiphyllum elongatum WPT was most herbivorized, harboring an extensive herbivore component community containing 81.8% of FFGs, 63.6% of DT categories, 40.9% of DT occurrences, and 36.4% of specialized interactions at the site. Fifth, eriophyioid gall DT70 was host-specialized on Dicroidium crassinervis, where it constitutes 70.1% of all Molteno DT70 occurrences and revealing a distinctive developmental ontogeny. Sixth, herbivory levels significantly surpassed those of the Late Permian.


Carnian Component community Damage Type Dicroidium crassinervis End-Permian extinction Gondwana Heidiphyllum elongatum Karoo Basin Mite gall Plant–insect interactions 



Thanks go to Finnegan Marsh for formatting Figs. 14.1 to 14.13. Pfarelo (Grace) Tshivhandekano provided the images from which Fig. 14.5 to 14.10 were assembled. Jennifer Wood rendered and colorized Figs. 14.11 and 14.12. We thank an anonymous reviewer for constructive comments and Larry Tanner for inviting this contribution. This work is contribution 320 of the Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems consortium at the National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PaleobiologyNational Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian InstitutionWashington, DCUSA
  2. 2.Department of Entomology and BEES ProgramUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  3. 3.College of Life SciencesCapital Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  4. 4.Evolutionary Studies InstituteUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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