URIBIA, Colombia, Oct. 16 (UPI) — A site in northern Colombia has provided the first reliable evidence of how neotropical rain forests looked 58 million years ago, scientists said.
The Cerrejon site, one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mines, contains more than 2,000 plant fossil specimens, some nearly 10-feet long, scientists from the University of Florida and the Smithsonian Institution said in a release. The site also contains a fossil of a giant 46-foot snake known as Titanoboa.
“These specimens allow us to actually test hypotheses about their origins for the first time ever,” said Fabiany Herrera, a graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
The study shows many of the dominant plant families found living today in neotropical rain forests — palms, legumes, bananas and avocados — have maintained their dominance over millions of years, despite major changes in South America’s climate and geological structures, Herrera said.
Many previous studies of early rain forests were based on studies of pollen fossils, which contained no information about climate, forest structure, leaf morphology or the eating habits of insects, Herrera said.
Copyright 2009 by United Press International