Palynological evidence of effects of the terminal Cretaceous event on terrestrial floras in western North America

  • Nichols Douglas J. 
  • Fleming R. Farley 
  • Frederiksen Norman O. 
Mesozoic/Cenozoic Events
Part of the Lecture Notes in Earth Sciences book series (LNEARTH, volume 30)


New and previously published palynomorph distribution data on 225 taxa from uppermost Cretaceous (K) and lowermost Tertiary (T) nonmarine strata from New Mexico to Arctic Canada and Alaska were used to evaluate the effects of the terminal Cretaceous event (TCE) on terrestrial plant life. Analyses considered presence/absence, relative abundance, species diversity, and endemism, and employed Q-mode cluster analysis. The latest Cretaceous palynoflora showed gradual, continuous variation in composition from paleolatitudes (pl) 45° to 85° N. Palynofloristic subprovinces are not easily distinguished empirically, but three are recognizable quantitatively. Abrupt disappearance of many distinctive species marked the K-T boundary, and the earliest Tertiary palynoflora was considerably reduced in diversity. However, most regionally distributed taxa, and many endemic taxa of the polar and midlatitude subprovinces, survived the TCE and three subprovinces are recognizable in the same geographic positions as in the latest Cretaceous. Relative abundances of pteridophytes and gymnosperms were slightly greater in the early Tertiary than in the latest Cretaceous, probably due in part to change in sedimentary regime, but thermophilic angiosperm taxa persisted at least as far north as pl 60° N. These data support the hypothesis that a short-lived but profound ecological crisis at the end of the Cretaceous resulted in major reorganization of the flora. The data are inconsistent with gradual climatic deterioration. Extinction was greater among angiosperms than among gymnosperms or pteridophytes, but whether or not the entire flora suffered a mass extinction remains debatable.


Late Cretaceous Mass Extinction Jaccard Similarity Coefficient Shade Portion Southern Cluster 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alvarez, L. W., Alvarez, W., Asaro, F. & Michel, H. V. (1980): Extraterrestrial cause for the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. — Science, 208, 1095–1108.Google Scholar
  2. Alvarez, W., Kauffman, E. G., Surlyk, F., Alvarez, L. W., Asaro, F. & Michel, H. V. (1984): Impact theory of mass extinctions and the invertebrate fossil record. — Science, 223, 1135–1141.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, R. Y. (1960): Cretaceous-Tertiary palynology, eastern side of the San Juan basin, New Mexico. — New Mexico Bur. Mines & Mineral Resources Mem., 6, 59 p.Google Scholar
  4. Doerenkamp, A., Jardine, S. & Moreau, P. (1976): Cretaceous and Tertiary palynomorph assemblages from Banks Island and adjacent areas (N.W.T.). — Bull. Canadian. Petrol. Geol., 24, 372–417.Google Scholar
  5. Farabee, M. J. & Canright, J. E. (1986): Stratigraphic palynology of the lower part of the Lance Formation (Maestrichtian) of Wyoming. — Palaeontographica Abt. B, 199, 1–89.Google Scholar
  6. Fleming, R. F. (1985): Palynological observations of the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in the Raton Formation, New Mexico (abs.). — Palynology, 9, 242.Google Scholar
  7. Frederiksen, N. O., Ager, T. A., Oftedahl, O. G. & Edwards, L. E. (1985): Palynological samples near the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary, North Slope of Alaska (abs.). — Soc. Econ. Paleontolog. & Mineralog., Ann. Midyear Mtg. Abstracts, 2, 31.Google Scholar
  8. Hickey, L. J. (1984): Changes in the angiosperm flora across the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary.— In: Berggren, W. A. & Van Couvering, J. A. (eds.): Catastrophes in Earth history, 279–313 (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.).Google Scholar
  9. Jarzen, D. M. (1982): Angiosperm pollen from the Ravenscrag Formation (Paleocene), southern Saskatchewan, Canada.— Pollen et Spores, 24, 119–155.Google Scholar
  10. Jerzykiewicz, T. & Sweet, A. R. (1986): The Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in the central Alberta foothills. I: Stratigraphy.— Canadian Jour. Earth Sci., 23, 1356–1374.Google Scholar
  11. Kauffman, E. G. (1986): High-resolution event stratigraphy: regional and global Cretaceous bio-events. — In: Walliser, O. H. (ed.): Global bio-events, a critical approach, 279–335; Springer Verlag, Berlin.Google Scholar
  12. Kauffman, E. G. & Scott, R. W. (1976): Basic concepts of community ecology and paleoecology. — In: Scott, R. W. & West, R. R. (eds.): Structure and classification of paleocommunities, 1–28 (Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Stroudsburg, Pa.).Google Scholar
  13. Krassilov, V. A. (1981): Changes of Mesozoic vegetation and the extinction of dinosaurs. — Palaeogeog., Palaeoclimat., Palaeoecol., 34, 207–224.Google Scholar
  14. Leffingwell, H. A. (1971): Palynology of the Lance (Late Cretaceous) and Fort Union (Paleocene) Formations of the type Lance area, Wyoming. — In: Kosanke, R. M. & Cross, A. T. (eds.): Symposium on palynology of the Late Cretaceous and early Tertiary. — Geol. Soc. America Spec. Pap., 127, 1–64.Google Scholar
  15. McIntyre, D. J. (1974): Palynology of an Upper Cretaceous section, Horton River, District of Mackenzie, N.W.T. — Geol. Survey Canada Pap., 74–14, 57 p.Google Scholar
  16. Muller, J. (1970): Palynological evidence on early differentiation of angiosperms. — Biol. Rev., 45, 417–450.Google Scholar
  17. Newman, K. R. (1979): Cretaceous/Paleocene boundary in the Denver Formation at Golden, Colorado, USA (abs.). — Geol. Mus. Univ. Copenhagen, Contribs. Palaeont., 293, 246–248.Google Scholar
  18. Newman, K. R. & Lewis, L. L. (1980): Palynomorph biozones and boundary stratotypes in the Maestrichtian-Danian Denver Formation, North and South Table Mountains, Golden, Colorado (abs.). — Palynology, 4, 247.Google Scholar
  19. Nichols, D. J. & Ott, H. L. (1978): Biostratigraphy and evolution of the Momipites-Caryapollenites lineage in the early Tertiary in the Wind River basin, Wyoming. — Palynology, 2, 93–112.Google Scholar
  20. Nichols, D. J., Jacobsen, S. R. & Tschudy, R. H. (1982): Cretaceous palynomorph biozones for the central and northern Rocky Mountain region of the United States. — In: Powers, R. B. (ed.): Geologic studies of the Cordilleran thrust belt, 721–733 (Rocky Mountain Assoc. Geol., Denver).Google Scholar
  21. Nichols, D. J., Jarzen, D. M., Orth, C. J. & Oliver, P. Q. (1986): Palynological and iridium anomalies at Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, south-central Saskatchewan. — Science, 231, 714–717.Google Scholar
  22. Norton, N. J. & Hall, J. W. (1967): Guide sporomorphae in the Upper Cretaceous-lower Tertiary of eastern Montana (U.S.A.). — Rev. Palaeobot. Palynol., 2, 99–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Norton, N. J. & Hall, J. W. (1969): Palynology of the Upper Cretaceous and lower Tertiary in the type locality of the Hell Creek Formation, Montana, U.S.A.. — Palaeontographica Abt. B, 125, 1–64.Google Scholar
  24. Oltz, D. F., Jr. (1969): Numerical analyses of palynological data from Cretaceous and early Tertiary sediments in east central Montana. — Palaeontographica Abt. B, 128, 90–166.Google Scholar
  25. Orth, C. J., Gilmore, J. S., Knight, J. D., Pillmore, C. L., Tschudy, R. H. & Fassett, J. E. (1981): An iridium anomaly at the palynological Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in northern New Mexico. — Science, 214, 1341–1343.Google Scholar
  26. Robertson, E. B. (1975): Pollen and spores as stratigraphic indices to the North Dakota Paleocene. — Thesis, Univ. Minnesota.Google Scholar
  27. Rouse, G. E. & Srivastova, S. K. (1972): Palynological zonation of Cretaceous and early Tertiary rocks of the Bonnet Plume Formation, northeastern Yukon, Canada. — Canadian Jour. Earth Sci., 9, 1163–1179.Google Scholar
  28. Russell, D. A. (1984): Terminal Cretaceous extinction of larger reptiles. — In: Berggren, W. A. & Van Couvering, J. A. (eds.): Catastrophes in Earth history, 373–384; Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.Google Scholar
  29. Russell, D. A. & Singh, C. (1978): The Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in south-central Alberta — a reappraisal based on dinosaurian and microfloral extinctions. — Canadian Jour. Earth Sci., 15, 284–292.Google Scholar
  30. Smith, A. G., Hurley, A. M. & Briden, J. C. (1981): Phanerozoic paleocontinental world maps, 120 p.; Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  31. Snead, R. G. (1969): Microfloral diagnosis of the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, central Alberta. — Alberta Res. Council Bull., 25, 148 p.Google Scholar
  32. Srivastava, S. K. (1970): Pollen biostratigraphy and paleoecology of the Edmonton Formation (Maestrichtian), Alberta, Canada. — Palaeogeog., Palaeoclimat., Palaeoecol., 7, 221–276.Google Scholar
  33. Stanley, E. A. (1965): Upper Cretaceous and Paleocene plant microfossils and Paleocene dinoflagellates and hystrichosphaerids from northwestern South Dakota. — Bull. Amer. Paleo., 49, 175–384.Google Scholar
  34. Sweet, A. R. (1978a): Palynology of the Ravenscrag and Frenchman Formations. — In: Whitaker, S. H., Irvine, J. A. & Broughton, J. A. (eds.): Coal resources of southern Saskatchewan: a model for evaluation methodology. — Geol. Survey Canada Econ. Geol. Rept., 30, 29–39.Google Scholar
  35. Sweet, A. R. (1978b): Palynology of the lower part, type section, Tent Island Formation, Yukon Territory. — Geol. Survey Canada Pap., 78-1B, 31–37.Google Scholar
  36. Sweet, A. R. & Hills, L. V. (1984): A palynological and sedimentological analysis of the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, Red Deer valley, Alberta, Canada (abs.). — Sixth Internat. Palynol. Conf., Calgary 1984, Abstracts, p. 160.Google Scholar
  37. Tschudy, R. H. (1971): Palynology of the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in the northern Rocky Mountain and Mississippi embayment regions. — In: Kosanke, R. M. & Cross, A. T. (eds.): Symposium on palynology of the Late Cretaceous and early Tertiary. — Geol. Soc. America Spec. Pap., 127, 65–111.Google Scholar
  38. Tschudy, R. H. (1973): The Gasbuggy core — a palynological appraisal. — In: Fassett, J. E. (ed.): Cretaceous and Tertiary rocks of the southern Colorado Plateau, 131–143 (Four Corners Geol. Soc., Farmington, N.M.).Google Scholar
  39. Tschudy, R. H. (1984): Palynological evidence for change in continental floras at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. — In: Berggren, W. A. & Van Couvering, J. A. (eds.): Catastrophes in Earth history, 315–337 (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.).Google Scholar
  40. Tschudy, R. H., Pillmore, C. L., Orth, C. J., Gilmore, J. S. & Knight, J. D. (1984): Disruption of the terrestrial plant ecosystem at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, western North America. — Science, 225, 1030–1032.Google Scholar
  41. Tschudy, R. H. & Tschudy, B. D. (1986): Extinction and survival of plant life following the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary event, Western Interior, North America. — Geology, 14, 667–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wolfe, J. A. & Upchurch, G. R., Jr. (1986): Vegetation, climatic and floral changes at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. — Nature, 324, 148–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nichols Douglas J. 
    • 1
  • Fleming R. Farley 
    • 2
  • Frederiksen Norman O. 
    • 3
  1. 1.U.S. Geological Survey, M.S. 919DenverUSA
  2. 2.Department of Geological SciencesUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Geological SurveyRestonUSA

Personalised recommendations